Forging new bonds at River Hill

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Varsity

October 03, 2006|By MILTON KENT

With his teaching and coaching schedule, it's a pretty fair bet that River Hill boys soccer coach Matt Shagogue doesn't have the time to watch Dr. Phil or Oprah in the afternoons.

But, in one month on the job at the Clarksville school, it has become clear that Shagogue has been listening to someone's sermons about the benefit of establishing solid bonds with those you work with.

"What has kind of opened their eyes is if I expect something of them, I try to do it with them," Shagogue said. "If I say we're going to run, I'm going to run with them. If my expectations are for you guys to be at a spaghetti dinner the night before the game, I'm going to be there. [If] you're volunteering your time, then I'm going to give back for you."

From the time Shagogue got the job in March, taking over for Bill Stara, he has been about maintaining solid lines of communication between himself and his Hawks players, letting them know what he expected and being consistent.

"The main thing I wanted to do when I got the job was build relationships," Shagogue said. "There are 12 seniors that have been with the program throughout, and this is brand new to them. The biggest thing to me was, from March until we start [practice] in August, let's build relationships.

"When I started meeting with everybody, hopefully I'll have at least a grasp of a number of them before and then go from there. I felt like I was successful and I think each day I'm a little more successful."

Part of that success, Shagogue has found, has come from a willingness to be flexible and to listen to his players. For instance, when Shagogue wanted to institute a post-school, pre-practice study hall, the team's upperclassmen told him they felt they could handle study just fine on their own.

So, Shagogue relented and said that if the players agreed to stay together on campus after school and if each of them kept all his class grades above a D after biweekly checks, there would be no study hall.

"There's been a give and take, and I hope that if nothing else, they get that I am fair and honest with them. They've worked really hard for me," Shagogue said.

The seventh-ranked Hawks (5-0-2) are an interesting blend of new and old, with the 12 seniors on the roster from last year's Class 3A co-state champions.

However, nine starters are new, so a period of adjustment would appear to be in order. That philosophy might work anywhere but River Hill, which has won or shared the past four Class 3A championships and seven crowns overall, all under Stara.

In other words, a regional championship or runner-up finish in the state title game would be a point of deep pride for some programs, but winning it all is what's expected at River Hill.

"That's our goal. We're still River Hill," said senior forward Greg Sneeringer, a co-captain.

Into this well of expectations comes Shagogue, 30, coaching a varsity team for the first time, after coaching junior varsity at Archbishop Spalding and Reservoir.

Taking over at a place with such standards is daunting enough, but in following Stara, who also won seven championships at Centennial, Shagogue walks in with a number of eyes firmly trained on him.

So far, the players say that while some methods have changed, the outcome has been the same and the beat goes on. The Hawks passed an important early test in forging a 1-1 tie on the road at No. 6 Fallston, in which they got a late second-half goal, then held on through the overtimes.

"We grew as a team in that game," senior forward Mulu Sayoum said. "We learned what we could do if we had to against the better teams."

The Hawks held their own Friday night at home against No. 4 Mount Hebron in a scoreless tie that can only help maintain the pride that has flowed through River Hill for quite some time.

"We're coming together and we're starting to put things together," Shagogue said. "That confidence is great. A lot of people would see it as arrogance. I don't necessarily see it that way.

"I think it's a quiet confidence and you see it on the field. They have a lot of pride in what the program represents and what the past guys have done and what they've done in the past. I just try to keep that going and instill in them that I have that confidence in them, too. And I've tried to build that confidence, hopefully, that they have in me."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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