Centennial, Wilde Lake have early edge

September 14, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

The saying goes that offense wins games but defense wins championships.

Well, it just might be the other way around in Howard County girls soccer this fall.

Almost everybody has a skilled, experienced defense, so whoever can muster the offense to break through those stalwarts should come out on top.

Finding that offense won't be easy for everyone. Most of the county's super strikers have graduated, including Oakland Mill's Tricia Witte, an All-Metro pick and Howard County Player of the Year who scored 20 goals and had 11 assists, and Hammond's Kisha Jett, who scored 15 goals.

The two teams with the proven offenses -- Centennial and Wilde Lake -- have the early edge on the rest of the pack.

Despite losing two All-County players, the Eagles are loaded for new coach Dave Greenberg, a former Mount Hebron assistant. Although they graduated a pair of All-County players, two others return in striker Michelle Clare and sweeper Tania Riismandel.

Clare, who scored 16 goals last year, and halfback Lauren Molinaro could be the best one-two punch in the county. Both are highly skilled with good eyes for the nets. Their ability, combined with plenty of strength elsewhere, also could power the Eagles to their fourth straight appearance in the state final four.

"I know expectations are high and hopes are high," said Greenberg. "I don't think we're so good that we'll walk out and just win even though potentially we could be awfully good."

The main challenge should come from defending county champ Wilde Lake even though the Wildecats lost three All-County players, including All-Metro defender Carrie Chao.

However, the Wildecats do return a strong scoring combination in striker Kristen Riismandel and halfback Lindsay Waxler. The rest of the team looks solid, too, with another four-year veteran, Carrie Brelsford, leading the defense.

"On paper, it looks like we should have a rebuilding year," said Wildecats coach Rick Wilson. "When you graduate that talent, you look to step down, but we probably have more depth this year than we've ever had."

Hammond, second in the county last season and state Class 1A/2A finalists, lost nine starters to graduation, and that should drop them a notch or two.

Both Howard and Atholton added some talented freshmen to more experienced squads, which should keep them on the rise. Glenelg has talent but not a lot of depth. Oakland Mills is looking for someone to pick up the slack for Witte. And don't count out Mount Hebron, which could surprise anyone.

The fun will carry over into the regional playoffs this year because everybody advances as the state tests an open regional format. Glenelg coach Mike Williams served on the state committee that adopted the new format by a unanimous vote.

In the past, only the top four teams advanced in each region where they were seeded based on points accumulated for regular-season wins. Now, every team that registers can enter the regional tournament, and games will be played at predetermined sites.

Each team will be placed by a blind draw into a 16-team bracket. In a region with fewer than 16 teams, some teams will receive byes through the draw.

Williams, whose team missed the regionals last year by a half point, said the new system has its "pros and cons," but he favors it.

"If you lose early, you've got a chance to overcome that," said Williams. "Teams that do improve a lot and are the best teams at the end of the season get a chance now without this point thing knocking them out. It allows you to schedule more tough teams, it takes away the padding of schedules to get more points, and it allows natural rivalries to emerge again."

There is one thing that has not changed to Howard County's advantage, however.

"I don't see how it helps Howard County much because we're still all together," said Hammond coach Dave Guetler. "In the regional playoffs, Howard County teams are always hoping to draw somebody outside Howard County."

The regional playoffs usually bring encore performances of some of the season's best matchups. Centennial, Howard and Mount Hebron all remain in the Class 3A/4A West region and Atholton, Glenelg, Hammond, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake are in Class 1A/2A South.

Still, most coaches are in favor of the new format although most have at least one reservation.

"For me this year, I think it's great," said Guetler, whose squad lost nine starters from a team that fell in the state Class 1A/2A final last fall. "But I do think it's unfortunate that teams that do well and have winning records don't get any kind of a bye or anything. I think that would more advantageous."

Wilde Lake coach Rick Wilson agreed. "It takes away the incentive to do real well during the regular season. Before, you were vying for the home-field advantage or the top seed. Now, a great regular season gets you nothing."

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