River Hill’s young field hockey team has relied a lot on veteran midfielders Maddie Vasilios and Puja Nanjappa, but as the season winds toward the playoffs, the younger Hawks have become much more comfortable with bigger roles.

Wednesday night, sophomore Carolyn Dzubak scored the first goal and a trio of first-year players — midfielders Lauren Jee and Gabrielle Bergstrom and forward Maya Chan — contributed to the No. 6 Hawks’ 5-1 win at No. 9 Glenelg.

The Gladiators were within 2-1 going into the final quarter before the Hawks (10-2, 8-0 county) broke the game open to clinch at least a share of the Howard County championship. River Hill is the only team unbeaten in the county with two games left to play, but Marriotts Ridge is 7-2 after Wednesday’s 5-4 win over Mount Hebron, so the Hawks need one more win to take the title outright.

Vasilios, the county’s leading scorer, had three goals and an assist while Chan also scored a goal.

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River Hill coach Shelly Chamness said she’s glad to see the young Hawks playing with more confidence, because it takes some of the pressure off Vasilios and Nanjappa.

“We can’t have Maddie just scoring all the goals,” Chamness said. “We need to have other people scoring, so we worked really hard (at practice Tuesday) and Maddie just fed the ball. We did a whole bunch of different runarounds and things and they just started to gain more and more confidence.”

That paid off right away on Wednesday as Dzubak celebrated her birthday with a first-quarter penalty-corner goal on a feed from Vasilios. The senior got the ball at the top of the circle, dodged one defender and sent it to the right side.

“It was a perfect setup,” Dzubak said. “She passed it straight to me and I saw that corner wide open and I took that shot.”

Jee and Bergstrom were instrumental in the Hawks transition, especially against the quick Eyre sisters, junior AJ and sophomore Brinkley.

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Vasilios, a Maryland commit, and Nanjappa, a Stanford commit, have worked a lot with the young players and enjoy seeing them contribute more and more.

“It’s amazing because if you look back at how we played at Broadneck (6-1 loss on Sept. 10) and how much progress they’ve made, it’s the work ethic they put in,” Nanjappa said. “Every day at practice, they listen to what we have to say, they ask us questions… It’s not like they’re just here to play, but they’re here to learn and get better and that’s really helpful for me and Maddie. Everything we tell them, they soak it up and then they do it.”

Last season, Glenelg dealt the Hawks their only two Howard County losses and those wins gave the Gladiators the county championship. Although the Gladiators rallied in the third quarter Wednesday, Vasilios scored the game winner 57 seconds before halftime.

Glenelg’s Sarah Walker cut the lead back to one on a penalty stroke with 6:46 left in the third quarter. That seemed to rejuvenate the Gladiators offense and they took a couple more shots in the quarter, but River Hill goalie Jocelyn Baker saved both.

Vasilios gave the Hawks an insurance goal with 10:39 left in the game. Three minutes later, Chan swept a Vasilios pass inside the left post, past diving Gladiators goalie Frankie DiValentin, and, with 1:05 left, Vasilios scored on a breakaway, the only Hawks goal not scored on a penalty corner.

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The Gladiators had their chances to score with eight penalty corners and several nice setups from Skyler Rill, but they managed just four shots.

“I think that’s really the lesson from today,” said Glenelg co-head coach Candice Russ. “They just have to do a better job of finishing. I think they put the pressure on, but River Hill just did a much better job of finishing and exploiting their goal-scoring opportunities.”

Glenelg is also young after losing a handful of strong players from last year’s Class 2A state championship team. Russ said she and coach Christina Giampalmo can see the progress even in a loss.

“I think that they’re finding their rhythm,” Russ said. “I think initially we had a little bit of issues with being more consistent throughout games, but I think they are starting to understand that they are a really good team and that it’s worth working for each other. I think they did a really good job of showing that even when they have to play tough competition, they’re willing to meet that challenge.”

The Gladiators will get another shot at the Hawks when the teams meet in the regular-season finale on Oct. 21 at River Hill.

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RH 1 1 0 3 — 5

G 0 0 1 0— 1

GOALS: RH—Maddie Vasilios 3, Carolyn Dzubak, Maya Chan; G—Sarah Walker.

ASSISTS: RH—Maddie Vasilios, Carolyn Dzubak; G—none.

SAVES: RH—Jocelyn Baker 2; G—Trinity Shackleford 1, Frankie DiValentin 2.

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