It pays off when players buy into Stara's system

River Hill: The coach with a record 13 state titles knows it takes more than just having skilled players to build a winning tradition.

High School Sports Boys Soccer

September 02, 2005|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Sometimes, winning state titles comes down to mind over matter.

That's why River Hill boys soccer coach Bill Stara thinks that personal responsibility, commitment to the team and unselfishness are just as important to his team's success as individual skills and athletic ability.

The Hawks won their third straight Class 3A state championship last season and in the process set a new standard by winning their sixth state title in nine years, eclipsing the previous best of five in nine years held by Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake.

Stara, who won seven state titles in 14 years at Centennial before transferring to River Hill in 1996, has coached a record 13 state championship teams. Former Oakland Mills coach Don Shea is second with nine.

Stara instills responsibility, commitment and unselfishness in a lot of little ways, from making players fully responsible for taking care of the equipment before and after practice, to having them present him every Friday with a personal agenda book signed by their teachers that grades them on academics and deportment for that week.

Starting players also are expected to sit on the bench and cheer for younger teammates during lopsided games, sacrificing their own statistics and playing time so that the team can develop next year's starters and a winning tradition can continue.

Stara calls it "buying into the system."

"When they get older and go into the business world, the important thing will be the group, not the individual. Employers are looking for the kinds of people who show up on time every day and work for the good of the company. The individual is not stronger than the group. That's one of the valuable lessons to be learned from sports," said Stara, who believes that tradition and discipline are what set River Hill apart from other programs.

Stara also has had the benefit of River Hill's status as a magnet school. That meant any student from the western half of Howard County could apply for enrollment in the vocational-technical program, which the county has ended.

Stara's reputation naturally attracted a number of top-caliber soccer players to River Hill from other school districts, including Tyler Meade, a three-year starter who lives in the Atholton district.

"I took the biotech program, will have an internship next summer at Combs Research Center in Baltimore and hope to study biology at either Hopkins or Middlebury College," Meade said. "I came here partly for the soccer, but also for the education."

Stara, who is also director of coaching for a club program in Loudoun County, Virginia, and has hinted that he might step down as Hawks coach after this season, doesn't believe the advantage was that significant.

"When the all-county teams come out, some other schools have just as many players on the team as we do, so how can they say we had all the better players," Stara said. "The tech magnet program saved some Howard County athletes from leaving for private schools because that program served their academic needs."

Stara is a perfectionist who wasn't satisfied with last year's team despite the state title, 15-1-1 record and No. 2 ranking. He thought too many players tested the system.

"The seniors didn't play to their potential, and I had to deal with too many disciplinary problems that distracted from the enjoyment of winning," he said.

To make his point, Stara sat out four players in the team's only loss, to Hammond.

Meade, whose older brother, Cullen, played for Stara at Centennial, didn't need that kind of message to buy into the system.

"You learn responsibility, you learn to work hard to achieve one goal, the state title, and you learn that if you play by the coach's rules, he can be a very easy coach to play for," said the left-footed outside midfielder who also plays on Stara's club team. "The coach plays a huge role because he determines the team's mind-set."

When 30 varsity hopefuls scrimmaged on the first day of practice Aug. 22, Meade was one of the leaders on the field along with Stara's son, Matt, who was a second-team All-Metro selection last season.

Meade believes this year's team has the talent to win a fourth straight state title.

"Winning state titles never gets boring," he said. "Each one gets better and gives you something to look back on later in life."

Last year's team had more than its share of drama. The Hawks won in overtime against Atholton and Liberty and won a total of nine games by one goal, including all five state playoff games.

"The team played well as a group," Stara said. "A different player stepped up every game and we did whatever was needed. That was about buying into the system. Buying into the system is why we got to the state final without a senior class the first year the school opened. Players like Sam Salganik and Billy Allen from that team believed and set a tone for those that followed."

Stara's coaching ability also was part of the reason current goalkeeper, senior Matt Moss, moved to the River Hill district after attending Howard his freshman year. The move has paid off with two state titles for Moss.

"We wanted the best possible high school, but soccer was definitely a part of why we moved. Half of our success is Stara," he said. "He's a genius with us. He wants it more than anyone, and that makes us want it. He pushes us to our limit. And he's almost always right."

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