Three-sport standouts share Catonsville Times Athlete of the Year honor

Catonsville senior Rachel Schwaab, left, and Deb Milani, center, combined for 169 goals for the Baltimore County and Class 3A North Region champion Comets. <a href="http://www.baltimoresun.com/explore/baltimorecounty/sports/ph-ca-co-athletes-0613-20120613,0,5201284.story">Read the Catonsville story here.</a>
Catonsville senior Rachel Schwaab, left, and Deb Milani, center, combined for 169 goals for the Baltimore County and Class 3A North Region champion Comets. Read the Catonsville story here. (Photo by Noah Scialom)

Catonsville High coaches couldn't have had two more athletes who were as dedicated, talented and humble in the same scholastic sports year.

And when Comet senior Rachel Schwaab and junior Deb Milani played together on the same basketball and girls lacrosse teams, they proved they were winners.


The two teams went a combined 35-7 and Schwaab and Milani were the leaders.

The three-sport athlete are also the 2012 Catonsville Times Co-Athletes of the Year.


Milani, who played soccer in the fall, dedicated herself to being in the best shape of her life during a hot and humid summer day after her sophomore year.

Milani and a friend were motoring up and down the Catonsville High turf field doing wind sprints to stay in shape.

Schwaab, who also played volleyball, made an impression on Comet basketball coach Mike Mohler in the fall.

I could tell watching her play fall league (basketball) and in her volleyball games. She was dedicated to her fitness," "Mohler said. "Everything about her was an incredible transformation."

Schwaab went earned to earn the second-most All-County votes of any basketball player in the county.

"Rachel really became a complete player," said Mohler, who noted she couldn't be measured by her numbers, which included around nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and three two steals per game. "It won't show up statistically, but she's one of the all-time really good players I've coached."

Schwaab was like a coach and a mentor on the floor.

"She had tremendous leadership and did a great job with our younger kids," said Mohler, whose 18-5 squad had six underclassmen who played significant minutes.

Schwaab made the players around her better because she was so fundamentally sound.

"She is so smart and her court sense is unbelievable. She is an advanced chess player on the court. She is three steps ahead and she understands her next move," he said.

Her toughness was never in doubt since earning a sixth man role as a freshman on varsity.

"She never missed a game until this year and she only sat out because I made her sit out because of an ankle injury," Mohler said.

The coach also recalled a game during her sophomore year when she had the flu before the game, but insisted on playing.

"Once she stepped on the court, you couldn't tell she had a sniffle," he said.

Some of her biggest efforts came against the toughest competition.

In the Comets' 54-37 win over New Town, she was the main defender on Titans' leading scorer, Jannah Tucker, who made only 7 of 36 field goals in the contest.

Schwaab, who added 10 points and 13 rebounds, was praised by her coach after the game for her defensive effort, but deflected the kudos to her teammates.

"Everyone was trying to help on her so it was good team defense," Schwaab said after the win.

Milani was every bit as much the team player as Schwaab.

Thrust into a point guard role at times, she switched positions to better the team.

It may have cut down on her rebounds, but MIlani continued to be a disruptive force on the defensive end by creating steals or drawing charges

"She is an incredibly talented athlete," Mohler said.

Milani led the team in steals and dives to the floor for loose balls and often guarded the opponent's top scoring guard.

"She is tough as nails," Mohler said.

In the second game of the season, Milani had six steals in a 55-30 victory to eventual Class 1A state runner-up Western Tech.

Her breakout game on the court came during her sophomore year, when the Comets stunned Baltimore City champion Western, 59-57, in overtime.

MIlani had 11 rebounds, six assists and four points and tightly guarded one of the top players in Maryland, point guard Tenecia Spence.

"Her job was to shut down Tenecia Spence and she had that kid befuddled," Mohler said.

Like Schwaab, she did her job without a lot of chatter.

"She's not real verbal on the court. You don't see her barking orders, but she quietly does her job and does it well," Mohler said.

Both players' unselfishness were also keys to the success.

"The beauty of this year's team was on any given night the ball was shared," Mohler said. "They really epitomized how to play the game of basketball and Deb and Rachel were huge parts of that. They checked their egos at the door."

If they wanted bigger egos they could have filled them admirably on the lacrosse field, but the pair just went about their business and were arguably the best tandem in the county.

"They combined for 219 points (169 goals, 55 assists) and 57 ground balls.

Schwaab will continue her collegiate lacrosse career at Temple University next season, while Milani has one more season at Catonsville before playing lacrosse at the University of Maryland.

"She chose lacrosse to be her number one sport, but if she chose her other sports, she could have been a Division I athlete in those too," Mohler said.

Milani exploits on the lacrosse field earned her High School All-American honors.

She was the only Baltimore County player selected to the team which included 12 players from the Greater Baltimore area.

Milani led the Comets in goals (93), draw controls (121), ground balls (36) and caused turnovers (24) and was second in points (106) and assists (17).

"Deb always played well," lacrosse coach Becky Clipp said. "She never had an off game."

Although Milani rarely used her left hand, she could have.

"She can go left, but she didn't need to because nobody could stop her right hand," said Clipp, noting she never used her left hand while playing at Catonsville High.

Clipp went on to become a two-time All-American defender at the University of Maryland who also played four years on the United States national team.

Milani, who is left-handed, said she will work on that more playing with Heroes over the summer.

"If I'm beating them right-handed, I don't see why I need to go left," she said.

Two of Milani's highlight games came against two of the tougher opponents the Comet faced all season.

In an 18-13 triumph over Mount de Sales she won 18 draws, including 14 of 16 during a stretch late in the first half and early in the second half.

She also shared high-scoring honors with Schwaab (6 goals each).

Two weeks later, she scored nine goals in a 16-7 victory over Dulaney.

"The light went off for Deb that game," Clipp said. "She finally realized, 'I am good and I need to be a leader on the field in more than just scoring.' "

Milani scored four goals and had two assists when the Comets beat Dulaney 18-12 in the Baltimore County championship game and Schwaab had six goals and two assists.

But when the Comets faced Dulaney for a third time in the regional semifinals, Milani could not play because of two yellow cards in the previous game.

"When Deb couldn't play, Rachel really stepped up," Clipp said.

Schwaab, who led the Comets in assists (38) and was second in goals (76) was the quarterback of the patient Comet offense from behind the goal.


"Rachel gets people the ball," Clipp said. "She is really the team leader of the offense. When Rachel was playing well, the whole team was playing well."


Schwaab's patented crease role from behind the goal was unstoppable.

When teams tried to double-team her, she fed an open cutter for an easy score. When they didn't, she unveiled her vast array of shot angles.

"Rachel has unbelievable stickwork," Clipp said. "She is text book. We are going to miss Rachel a lot."

Although Schwaab will move on, fortunately Milani will be back.

"They both had great years," Clipp said.

Milani also had a great season on the soccer field, where the Comets finished 12-4 with three of the losses coming to county champion Perry Hall.

She only scored four goals and had three assists, but her speed and strength on the front line opened things up for freshman Jenn Nonn (team-leading 17 goals).

"Because of her size (5-feet-8), she brings a dominant presence to the striker position," Catonsville soccer coach James Fitzpatrick said. "She also had a very strong ability to play with her back to the goal so she winds up being a player other teams are aware of."

Like every other sport Milani plays, she doesn't do a lot of talking, but that didn't stop Fitzpatrick from naming her captain next season.

"That is not something to be taken lightly," Fitzpatrick said. "She is not a real vocal leader, but she is a great leader by example."

Like Mohler, Fitzpatrick thinks she could have been a Division I soccer player if she dedicated herself to that sport..

"There is no doubt she is a great athlete and she will be a 12-varsity letter winner," Fitzpatrick said.

Five days after the Comets lost in the lacrosse state semifinals to Severna Park, Fitzpatrick saw her running in his neighborhood to stay in shape.

"It's what you do when nobody is watching and she knows its the difference," Fitzpatrick said.

While nobody was watching, and a year after a jaw surgery forced her to miss volleyball season in 2010, Schwaab came back and played volleyball last fall.

"She missed a year because of the surgery and came back and was our Unsung Hero," volleyball coach Amanda Kaufman said. "She basically played any role we asked her to and she didn't complain a single bit about it. She filled every position in the front row."

Kaufman saw her dedication off the court as well.

"When we had a late practice she was in the weight room working out," Kaufman said. "She was definitely focused on her physical fitness and she had a great work ethic."

When it came to work ethic, both athletes were second to none.