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In new role, Kyle Saunderson still wows Reservoir boys soccer team

Reservoir's Kyle Saunderson, left, and River Hill's Mike Faderin, right, go up for a header during the boys soccer game.
Reservoir's Kyle Saunderson, left, and River Hill's Mike Faderin, right, go up for a header during the boys soccer game. (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun)

The math was all wrong for Reservoir senior defender Kyle Saunderson.

His teammates were caught rushing forward, all on the other side of the field, as four opponents and the ball were quickly coming his way.

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At just the right time inside the penalty area, Saunderson laid out and used his body as a roadblock to thwart an opponent's scoring threat.

"Four players charging at him and somehow Kyle got the ball and cleared it. I was like 'Wow'," said senior teammate Serigne Gueye, recalling the play he witnessed a couple years ago.

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Just about everybody who has seen Saunderson play soccer in his four varsity years at Reservoir can remember him doing something special. He's difficult not to notice. At 6-feet-4 and just over 200 pounds, he's one of Howard County's most dominating players.

This season, first-year coach Josh Sullivan has moved Saunderson to holding midfielder to get him around the ball more often. The team captain has adjusted well, leading the No. 7 Gators to an 8-1 mark.

"It's a lot different," Saunderson said. "I'm more in the middle now and don't sit back as much. I've got to go forward and try to help the team score. It's fun. It's helped me work on my touch and I think it's a great challenge."

Saunderson still wins every head ball that is close by and he still doesn't let opponents past him.

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And now he's supplying the offensive punch that Sullivan has urged — scoring three goals and adding six assists. Reservoir has won seven straight games.

It was easy for Sullivan to pick Saunderson's best recent play. On Sept. 16, he scored a goal in overtime to lift the Gators past Glenelg, 2-1.

"That was the moment where I felt like he stepped up as a senior leader and did what was necessary to get the win," Sullivan said. "We dominated the game and then they got a goal with nine minutes left to tie. So he just made some forward runs and became available in the box – settled it, turned and fired it in."

Despite being a senior, Saunderson, who has a weighted 4.2 grade point average, will not turn 17 until November. His parents — his father is the Reservoir principal and his mother is a middle school teacher — sent him to kindergarten when he was 4 years old.

That helped him mature more quickly. It's also led to some awkward moments.

With all the upperclassmen already driving last season, Saunderson was often left sitting after practice until his mother arrived to pick him up (he got his driver's license last summer). When he first came to Reservoir, he was asked repeatedly if he was the principal's son.

But it didn't take long for everybody to know all about Saunderson, who is still weighing college options. He started for varsity as a freshman and has been a key component ever since, helping the Gators win a state title in 2012 as a sophomore.

River Hill coach Matt Shagogue, who teaches at Reservoir and also has occasionally coached Saunderson in club ball, might be the one person who didn't find any one particular standout play from Saunderson.

It's a compliment.

"I've seen him play a lot — against him and with him. And for me, the biggest thing I see is that he's consistent every single game," Shagogue said. "So I don't think it's anything that says 'Wow' because nothing he does really surprises me. It would be a 'Wow' moment for me if we ended up successfully beating him or winning a ball on him."

Saunderson has his own unforgettable moment.

In the Gators' 3-2 win over Urbana to win the Class 3A state title in 2012, he was the first to tackle former teammate Mike Peprah, who headed home the game-winning goal in overtime.

"Mike started running around celebrating and I just grabbed him and tackled him. It was pretty awesome," Saunderson said.

He believes this year's team has the goods to get it done again.

"We still have six or seven players from that team, so the experience will help immensely in the long run," he said.

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