No. 6 Hawks dominate in battle of Howard County’s top two field hockey teams


by Katherine Dunn

River Hill’s No. 6 field hockey team stressed passing the ball to the outside to open up the middle against Howard County rival Marriotts Ridge Monday night and midfielder Maddie Vasilios took advantage of more than a few openings that strategy created.

Maddie Vasilios (left), who had two goals and an assist, and Puja Nanjappa, who had a goal and quarterbacked the defense, led No. 6 River Hill to a 4-1 victory over No. 7 Marriotts Ridge in a battle of undefeated Howard County teams Monday.

Vasilios, the reigning Howard County Player of the Year, scored two goals and had an assist as the Hawks rolled past No. 7 Marriotts Ridge, 4-1.

The junior scored twice in the second quarter, including once on a penalty stroke, and assisted Puja Nanjappa for a goal late in the third quarter to run the host Hawks’ lead to 4-0 — a surprising edge for a game between the top two teams in the county.

“Maddie is a phenomenal player,” Marriotts Ridge coach Molly Milani said. “She just has such disciplined and patient ball-handling skills. She knows exactly when someone’s about to lay that block tackle down and she knows, ‘I’m going to lift over’ or whatever. She’s really going to do well next year and at the next level.”

Even though she didn’t score the first goal, Vasilios’s ability to move the ball fluidly through the midfield to the 25-yard line set up the score. She passed to Allison Young on the left and Young maneuvered around a couple of defenders before sending the ball to Claire Slade near the end line. Slade took it in and scored.

“It all started with passing from the defense, the crisp passes,” Slade said. “Allison Young had a great pass to me which gave me the opportunity to dodge my defender and have an open shot in the middle of the circle, It’s a great start. It really kicked off the momentum of the game.”

While the Hawks (6-1 overall, 5-0 county) played an exceptional team game, including seven saves from goalie Jocelyn Baker and stick saves by defenders Evelyn Dzudak and Mayzie Connelly, most of the action revolved around midfielders Vasilios and Nanjappa.

The two have been playing field hockey since elementary school and they’ve been playing together since fourth grade.

“We’re best friends off the field too,” Nanjappa said.

“So we just have that connection,” Vasilios added. “It’s like honestly perfect too that I’m more of an offensive player and she’s more defensive, because being on the same team we can still play really well together, but have our own different parts on the field.”

Vasilios scored her goals back-to-back in a little over five minutes, both on great individual efforts. She lifted her penalty stroke shoulder high past Mustangs goalie Amanda Windsor and then fired a drive from the top of the circle into the left corner, giving the Hawks a 3-0 lead with 5:12 left in the first half.

The Hawks’ final goal came on a penalty corner when Jannah Nassar’s corner hit went to Vasilios, who maneuvered around a defender and passed to Nanjappa at the top of the circle. Nanjappa drove the ball into the left corner past a lunging Windsor.

“I think passing outside allowed us to spread the defense and get in quick,” River Hill coach Shelly Chamness said. “We’ve been scoring a lot of goals but we’ve had a lot of people in the circle so even though they recovered quick, we got in and had some open shots which was huge.”

The Mustangs, coming off a 3-2 overtime win over No. 13 Glenelg Friday could not carry the momentum into the new week and dropped to 3-1 overall and in the county.

They took four shots before River Hill managed one, but Baker saved three and Dzudak stopped the other. After that, the Mustangs had few chances until the fourth quarter despite strong play especially from Sophia Baxter and Natalie Freeman.

Baxter finally got the Mustangs on the board early in the fourth quarter, taking a pass from Sophia Haghgoo and lifting it over Baker’s head into the goal.

“The first half we definitely weren’t playing our game,” Milani said. “I think this team always kind of gets in our head. We know they’re a great team, they have great players and I think we kind of let that get to us a little bit. Same thing happened last year, first half we were down and then we turned it on the second half, but by then, it’s kind of hard to dig out of that hole.”

NO. 6 RIVER HILL 4, NO. 7 MARRIOTTS RIDGE 1

MARRIOTTS RIDGE 0 0 0 1 — 1
RIVER HILL 1 2 1 0 —4

GOALS: MR—Sophia Baxter; RH—Maddie Vasilios 2, Claire Slade, Puja Nanjappa.
ASSISTS: MR—Sophia Haghgoo; RH—Allison Young, Maddie Vasilios.
SAVES: MR—Amanda Windsor 6; RH—Jocelyn Baker 7.