Having lost its three senior captains from its third straight state championship team last season, River Hill girls soccer had some reservations about this year’s potential. Yes, the Hawks were still blowing opponents out — evident by their 20-1 scoring advantage entering Tuesday’s match with Wilde Lake — but they constantly wondered how they would stack up against the state’s best competition both in league play and in the postseason.
River Hill began to receive some answers Tuesday against the undefeated Wildecats, who returned all 11 starters from a group that challenged the Hawks twice a year ago. Goalkeeper Caroline Duffy and the backline stifled the Wildecats’ explosive attack, while Brigette Wang scored twice to further cement herself as one of the county’s top finishers.
Combine those two ingredients, and the result was a 2-0 River Hill win that keeps the Hawks undefeated in the county and sends Wilde Lake home with its first defeat of the 2018 campaign.
“I’ve realized how much the girls have grown since August,” coach Brian Song said. “And they’re starting to realize that we do have a special group of girls.”
Wang called Tuesday’s contest “a really great game,” during which both teams came to play, and the final statistics reflected as such. Both River Hill (6-0 county, 8-1 overall) and Wilde Lake produced a handful of dangerous scoring opportunities on set pieces and during the run of play, and each team’s defensive unit made sure those chances were few and far between.
In net, Duffy caught almost every one of the Wildecats’ corner kicks while Jenna Hutchison dove, slid and jumped around the goalie box to keep her team within striking distance.
Wilde Lake’s first attempt at net was one of its best, as sophomore Jillian Ingram was 1-on-1 with Duffy in the opening minutes but pushed her strike wide. As it turned out, the Wildecats (5-1-1, 9-1-1) would have to wait until the midway point of the first half to create another look of such quality, and by that point, they already found themselves in a 1-0 hole.
The scoring sequence came on the game’s first corner kick in the 17th minute and began with River Hill sophomore Sophia Elguera lofting the ball into the box. Hutchison punched the initial initial header a few feet ahead of her, but then she ran further off the goal line to try and prevent any sort of rebound attempt. She arrived a millisecond too late.
“I hung around the top of the 18, and it bounced out, and I really just volleyed it in,” Wang said. “Jenna was charging at me, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get this in,’ so I hit it and it thankfully went by.”
Lily Dunbar’s attempt to net the equalizer a few possessions later landed in the mitts of Duffy, who would make a habit out of charging into the crowd around her and decisively snatching the ball out of midair. Of the three Wilde Lake corner kicks over the final 12 minutes of the opening frame, two ended that exact same way.
Wilde Lake played its best in the first part of the second half, but the closest it came to scoring during that stretch was a strike from Dunbar that sailed just over the top crossbar with about 33 minutes to play in regulation. Aside from that, many of their possessions in the River Hill defensive third ended with the Hawks outmuscling them for possession before clearing the ball downfield.
“There were portions of the game where we were in control, and there were definitely portions of the game where we were on our heels,” Wildecats coach Megan Shea said. “It was definitely a good back-and-forth game. It’s probably the most back-and-forth game we’ve been a part of this season.”
Wang padded the Hawks’ lead at the 18:52 mark, taking a long ball from Ashlee Hamer and again beating a charging Hutchison to the ball for the easy score. It marked the second time Shea said her team left Wang wide open, and in situations like that, Shea knows Wang is the type of finisher who will capitalize.
Shea said stopping Wang will surely be a point of emphasis should Wilde Lake see River Hill in the sectional playoffs, as will improving its physicality to win 50/50 balls and better hold onto possession. As for River Hill, Wang said the focus will again be to limit a lethal Wildecats’ offense. She knows their attack would want nothing more than to end the Hawks’ season.
River Hill (6-0 county, 8-1 overall) — 2, Wilde Lake (5-1-1, 9-1-1) — 0
Goals: RH — Brigette Wang 2.
Assists: RH — Ashlee Hamer.
Saves: RH — Caroline Duffy 7; WL — Jenna Hutchison 8.
Halftime: 1-0, RH