Freedom HKY Players Forge Friendships During Club Championships


When asked about Freedom HKY’s second-place finish at the U16 field hockey national championships, Broadneck’s Raleigh Kerst shared plenty of her experiences and thoughts.

She quickly added one last thing: “It was my birthday on the second day of the tournament. There’s no better place to spend my birthday, and no better group of people I’d want to spend it with.”

Kerst and several other local field hockey players spent the last part of June, into early July, in Virginia Beach, competing at USA Field Hockey’s national club championships. Freedom progressed from preliminary pool play in position to reach the knockout phase, where they got to the final.

That normally would be the headline, but while the team took pride in their performance, players took even more pride in their energy, their improvement and their bond.

“We really celebrate the small wins, whether it’s causing a turnover or even getting near our attacking goal,” said Broadneck’s Katelyn Kearns. “The bench goes crazy and it’s fun to be a part of that. We like to call ourselves gritty and then high energy.”

Kerst said, “We can be losing and you wouldn’t know what team is winning; we might look like we’re winning because we have more fun than the other team. We have a special atmosphere and that really impacts how well we do at tournaments.”

Considering how the 2023 team came together, instant camaraderie was by no means a given.

An off-field development led to some on-the-fly integration in the early part of the season, as Freedom HKY absorbed another local club, SPark, which beat Freedom for the region’s final U16 national tournament berth in 2022.

Suddenly, club rivals had to figure out how to work together for a common goal, instead of competing to deny each other.

“It was a little weird at first, but I think we bonded over that,” said Severna Park’s Kelsey Rowe, who came over from SPark after the merger.

Rowe said it was a funny thing that set them apart, but they grew closer as the season went on.

“All the players were really connected from the beginning, but it really started to come together in the winter,” Rowe said. “We went to nationals for indoor and we won first place in our league. Just winning together inspired us to work together even more. It’s a lot of great players to come together as one.”

Not only did the two teams come into one, but the added experience of playing at national tournaments helped bring new perspectives to the existing players, which in turn helped them stay focused at nationals on their run to the final.

“They beat us in the regionals final game first, so it was funny because we knew we would be playing with them in a couple of months,” Kerst said, referencing the 2022 loss to SPark. “It was weird that our future teammates knocked us out of going to nationals. We knew a little bit from the past, but they definitely gave us some insight on a lot of the teams that we don’t see that much unless we’re at nationals.”

Freedom went through the regular season and then qualified for nationals by winning the region championship. The team lost just twice at the national tournament, both to WC Eagles, a powerhouse team from Pennsylvania that swept all three age group national championships.

The second-place finish at nationals, combined with the region championship and a stack of other finishes over the last two years, left Freedom as the eighth-ranked team in the nation at the close of their U16 run. USA Field Hockey uses a two-year sliding-scale points system similar to the FIFA soccer rankings, in which teams are rewarded for sustained success, but recent results carry greater weight.

“Not qualifying for nationals last year really hurt our ranking just because that’s one of the main tournaments that decides that, but we took that and used it as motivation,” Kerst said. “Last year, that loss only helped us. We used it all season; that was our main goal was not only to qualify but to win regionals and do really well at the next national tournament.”

The string of successes gives these players confidence headed into the high school season, which will see them paired off against their club teammates and paired together with some club opponents.

Both Broadneck and Severna Park high school players will face off against each other, and each program also has players from both Freedom and their main in-state rival club.

“I think it gives us variety,” Kearns said. “We learn new skills from each other, and it gives us different perspectives on the game. We can take all this knowledge and put it into one. We all have similar goals. We want to be competitive. Last year, we won states and coming back this year, we have that same goal and we want to try to get a repeat.”

Rowe said that it’s always a competition with Broadneck.

“It’s funny because we’re rivals during the high school season, but we’re also best friends during the club season,” Rowe said.

Freedom HKY is comprised of players from all over the state and some from northern Virginia. Other local players for the U16 team included Severna Park’s Emma Weber and Siena Turner, and Archbishop Spalding’s Madeline Lancione, Carys Donahue, Sophia Coleman and Eliza Jacobson. Severna Park’s Hannah Pope played at the regional tournament.


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