It didn't take long for Severna Park field hockey coach Lil Shelton to recognize Katie Woodcock's vast potential.
Try at first glance.
"I knew one day she was going to be great when she first came in," Shelton said.
Woodcock never was finer than during this past season, when she assumed a myriad of responsibilities and led the Falcons to within one game of a state championship. And for her efforts, the senior center-back was named The Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year.
South River's Laura Garner was selected Coach of the Year after resuscitating a dying program and taking the Seahawks to the region playoffs.
Woodcock, 17, was a jack-of-all-trades this fall, assuming the roles of striker on offensive corners and flyer on defensive corners. She also was Shelton's No. 1 choice for penalty strokes.
Most of all, Woodcock was the epitome of consistency on defense, regularly shutting down and frustrating the most skilled attackers.
"She just did everything for the team that she possibly could," Shelton said. "She was the backbone of the team, and she played her heart out in every game."
Woodcock and her fellow defenders also helped ease the pressure on sophomore keepers Rachel Kidwell and Kristy Hartman, who alternated in goal.
"It was a little hard at first," Woodcock said, speaking of initial difficulties in communication. "They had a problem just with feeling they could tell us what to do. If we're standing in the way, they should be pushing us out of way. But they didn't want to feel like they were ordering us around. Now they understand that what they say is as important as what we say.
"We had faith in them. I don't ever remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, if the ball passes me, they won't be able to stop it.' " Not that many shots eluded Woodcock this season.
"She either played good or excellent. She never had a bad game," Shelton said. "She didn't have ups and downs. She was stable and steady and constant."
She was magnificent in an Oct. 15 game against rival Broadneck, scoring the game's first goal off a penalty corner in Severna Park's 3-0 victory.
She also was instrumental in the Bruins' inability to take a shot until 10 minutes remained.
Afterward, Shelton said Woodcock "should be All-American."
"Katie played the game of her life every time she went on the field," Shelton said. "That's just the way she approached field hockey, which is so unique. It's a fun game for her, and also something of a challenge for her.
But she never let it get the best of her. She was always on top of it.
"Nobody can touch her. Nobody can beat her."
Woodcock, who scored five goals and assisted on three others, credits her teammates for "helping me out and making me look good."
"A lot of people have been talking to me, and the rest of the defense might have been left in the shadows," she said, "but I couldn't have played as well as I did without them."
At South River, Athletic Director Jim Haluck found himself less than one week away from pronouncing the field hockey program dead back in early September. Former coach Elaine Boothby had resigned, and a replacement still had not been found.
Ironically, all Haluck had to do was look out his office window.
"I made a final plea through the newspapers," he recalled. "Laura was riding a tractor around the school, cutting the grass. It was her summer job. She read the announcement and said, 'Hey, I can do that.' " Garner, who two years ago participated in the National Field Hockey Festival in Irvine, Calif., did more than just save the program from extinction. She led the Seahawks to a .500 record (6-6) and a Class 3A Region IV playoff berth.
Though South River was eliminated by Northern in the opening round, 2-1, Garner already had met a couple of early-season goals.
"I thought it was possible for us to win six games," she said. "From playing field hockey for eight years I have this real competitive streak. I was told that was a high goal, that if we won four games we would be doing better than they had in the past. Jim (Haluck) said, 'If you win four I'll be happy.' I was like, 'If I win six I'll be happy.' " The sixth and final victory of 1990 came against Leonardtown, the team that defeated Broadneck in the Class A state finals in 1986, when Garner was a member of the Bruins.
"I wanted to beat them in a big way," she said with a laugh. "You don't forget something like that. There was no way I wanted to lose to that team twice."
Garner didn't make it through the season unscathed, however. She underwent surgery last week to repair a broken septum after being struck in the nose with a ball during a practice drill earlier in the year.
Garner jokes about the mishap. Nothing, of course, was supposed to come easily once she accepted the job.
"I had about three days to prepare for the season," she said. "I didn't know if the kids were in condition or what the skill level was. Quite frankly, the things I had been hearing were negative, so I said, 'OK, lets just go in and start from scratch and pretend that we've never played field hockey before.' We just started over, and I think that really helped."
"She had her ups and downs, as everyone does," Haluck said. "She practically had to build the program, starting out with the basics. She had to find out what we had, what was good and bad."
Perhaps the best is yet to come.
"I have the majority of my team coming back," Garner said. "They're psyched for it. I'm really looking forward to a good year next year."
Haluck said, "It looks like she has given us a competitive field hockey program at South River."