The senior tri-captains of the Wilde Lake girls soccer team planned a spirit day earlier this season with a “decade” theme.
Midfielder Lily Dunbar was returning to the 1960s, dressing as a hippie, while forward Julianna Bonner still hadn’t made up her mind at the time.
Both, however, knew exactly what the Wildecats’ third captain, goalie Jenna Hutchison, would be sporting.
“She’ll be wearing leather,” Dunbar said.
“Yeah, definitely leather,” Bonner quickly added.
Sure enough, confirmation came soon after: “I have this cool leather vest, so I’m definitely going [1950s] greaser,” Hutchison said.
Friends since their youth soccer days, varsity starters since the first game of their freshman season and captains for the past two, the trio knows each other well and has a special vibe.
They have an even bigger plan for the season: Making a strong push to bring home the program’s first state championship.
The Wildecats, ranked No. 6 with a 9-0-1 mark, are equipped for the task at hand. They brought back all 11 starters from last year’s 12-win team and have an influx of new talent with three freshmen starting.
In Bonner, Dunbar and Hutchison, they have leadership that knows what it takes to reach the title game. In their freshman year, they were tagged “The Trio” and played a big role in helping the Wildecats make the state title game, a one-goal loss against Fallston that still drives them today.
“We know what it’s like because we’ve been down the road and it takes a lot,” said Bonner, an All-Metro first-team selection and Howard County Player of the Year last season. “It’s a long season, and we can’t take anything for granted. It’s a cliché, but we have to play every game like it’s our last. Just having that background knowledge can prepare us for the big games. So I feel like because we know what we’ve gotten into in the past, we can rally this team and get there.”
Individually, Bonner, Dunbar and Hutchison bring their own special qualities to the team.
Bonner thrives at taking on defenders with an ability to produce consistent offense. Coming off a 21-goal, nine-assist junior season, she already has nine goals and an assist this year. Dunbar, who has three goals and three assists at central midfield, is the efficient connector who makes sure everybody is where they need to be on the field.
Hutchison brings confidence and unquestioned reassurance in the back, owning the penalty area with smart and aggressive play.
“We all have so many different layers. There’s a serious part to all of us and also a fun part to all of us,” said Hutchison, who also was a captain in her sophomore year. “Overall, we just kind of make it work. Sometimes it may seem we have conflicting personalities, but we’re all very outgoing and willing to put in the work to make this team great and we all have the same goals so in the end. Those conflicting personalities is exactly what a team is.”
Looking back on their freshman season, all three shared the feeling of being a bit overwhelmed by the situation and how important it was to have each other. Now, they are looked up to and cherish the responsibility, making sure to share everything they’ve learned to get the most out of every minute of their last high school season.
“It’s so exciting,” Dunbar said. “It’s a little sad, a little bittersweet because every game, we’re like, ‘Oh this is my last time playing, say, Reservoir, that kind of thing. But it’s been awesome so far and being able to lead such a great group of girls. They work together so hard, and I can trust every girl on the team.”
Over the summer, the trio conducted 7 a.m. practices for all the players in the Wilde Lake program to set a strong tone.
Wilde Lake coach Megan Shea was pleased and impressed with the organization and commitment her captains have shown. She also wasn’t surprised. They have all received Division I scholarships — Bonner set to play at Lehigh, Dunbar committed to Drexel and Hutchison headed to George Mason — and each have weighted GPAs that exceed 4.6.
Shea has a folder filled with e-mails from parents of the freshman class, all of whom showed appreciation toward the three seniors.
“They all said how nerve racking it is to have a freshman daughter come into high school, but knowing the leadership that they have shown over the summer, they know they’re in a good place and their daughters have someone to look up to,” Shea said.
Opposing coaches have also taken note for the past four years.
“The amazing thing to me is that they’re all at different levels on the field and they work so well together,” said Reservoir coach Phil Ranker, whose Gators earned a 1-1 tie against the Wildecats on Sept. 25. “Obviously, Jenna in the back kind of holds it all down any time there’s breakdowns, and Lily basically controls the entire midfield and [Julianna] finishes chances up top better than most girls at this level that I’ve seen.
“They’ve played at such a high level together and have been able to do it in Howard County, which has been a tough spot for girls soccer.”
Wilde Lake is counting on the significant tests from the Howard County league to be ready for the playoff grind. Last season, the Wildecats finished second in Howard County to eventual Class 2A state champion River Hill, which also beat them in the region playoffs.
They’ll get their first crack at the No. 4 Hawks on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and the teams will likely meet in the region playoffs again.
“I love playing Wilde Lake soccer so much, and it’s just so surreal that within the next couple months, we’re going to be done,” Hutchison said. “So it’s happiness and joy and there’s also some sadness, but mostly that drive to do your absolute best in your final year.”