Field hockey in Maryland — it ain’t what it used to be.
Gone are the days when the words “Severna Park” on the front of a jersey were an easy predictor of dominant victory, and a state championship was the near-certain conclusion to every season.
Gifted players and talented teams populate the landscape at every level and in every neighborhood, from youth to high school.
So while consecutive September losses may have been unheard-of for Severna Park teams of the ‘90s and early 2000’s, the 2018 Falcons have taken it on the chin twice to start the season. Severna Park registered a pair of wins in Chesapeake’s home tournament on September 8, but they followed with losses to Arundel and Glenelg in mid-September to sit at just 2-2 through four games.
The Wildcats achieved a long-sought goal with their first-ever victory over Severna Park, a 2-1 win in overtime on September 11, while the reigning 2A champion Glenelg Gladiators notched a 3-2 win over the Falcons three days later.
Naturally, Severna Park responded. The Falcons posted wins over Old Mill and Atholton before topping St. Paul’s School for Girls, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference power from Baltimore County, 3-2 behind two goals from Hunter Chadwick; one by Alex Miller; assists by Sarah Adams, Chadwick, Miller and Camille Donaghey; and three saves by Anna Grace Keller to improve to 5-2 on the season.
“We’ve hit a couple of bumps, but we’re working our way back,” said first-year head coach Shannon Garden prior to the Falcons’ win over St. Paul’s. “Tactically, they’re smart. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s different for them than it has been in years past, especially for the seniors, but I can tell when they buy in and they start doing it, there’s just an amazing trickle-down effect, because the girls look up to them so much.”
Helping that trajectory, said Garden, is the senior leadership of captains Miller, Delaney Ott and Hailey Blachly on a team with 12 total seniors.
“The three of them, their work ethic is impeccable, so they totally set that tone,” said Garden.
Against the Gators on September 20, the team employed side-to-side player movement and an attack focused on swinging the ball and passing down the alleys to create scoring chances, something of a change from playing styles of years past.
“It’s completely different than last year,” said Blachly. “We have to get used to a new coaching style, but we’re embracing it. We are starting to trust each other and the coaches and how they’re coaching. We’re becoming more successful as the season goes on.”
Ott said the Falcons of course want to win, but they’re staying in the moment and concentrating on process, not results.
“I think we’re really excited and we want to work on really playing together, focus on that and have that be our ultimate goal no matter how far we go,” Ott said.
It’s an approach that will be tested throughout the remainder of the season as Severna Park faces the gauntlet of South River, Broadneck and Chesapeake in October in addition to another IAAM foe in Notre Dame Prep.
“Hockey around the county, it’s come up,” said Garden. “You’ve got national team players living in every community. We’ve got to adjust our game to that next-level play.”
She added that a couple early losses can help the Falcons set a course for improvement.
“We were in both those games [against Arundel and Glenelg], and both those teams were very good,” she said. “It was good to see where our weaknesses are, and then we turn around and won two in a row. So we’re trying to build on that, the weaknesses that were exposed.”
Blachly believes the Falcons will be tested and ready for the next time they see Arundel, possibly in the 4A East playoffs in late October.
“It was definitely a hard loss. It was a good wake-up call for us,” said Blachly. “It showed us we really have to bring it for every game. When we see them again next time, it’s going to be a completely different game on both sides.”