Jeanette Ireland didn't lead Mount Hebron's field hockey team to a county title or a Class 2A regional playoff berth, but the Vikings' first-year coach still turned in the most notable coaching job of the fall.
In a remarkable one-year turnaround, Ireland brought Hebron's program back to life.
Last year, Hebron went 1-10, scored just four goals and didn't beat a county opponent.
This year's Vikings gave opponents all they could handle, as Hebron went 7-5 overall, 4-3 against the county, scored 15 goals, notched six shutouts and barely missed the regional playoffs.
How did it happen? It certainly had much to do with Ireland, a 35-year-old part-time administrator at the Open Bible Day School in Baltimore and The Howard County Sun's Coach of the Year.
"I explained to the girls in the beginning that I didn't expect hockey to be their life, but when they were out on the field, I expected them to put everything else aside," said Ireland. "All I was looking for was tough play from them. They really responded to that. Our practices were intense from the beginning, and the kids kept it moving."
Hebron discovered quite a find in Ireland, who spent nine years as an assistant hockey coach at Johns Hopkins University. Ireland, who lives in Ellicott City, had met Hebron players Susan DeHaan and Christy Duke at a girls lacrosse camp in Baltimore last summer.
"They (DeHaan and Duke) started asking me then if I would come here to coach. I had no idea what the ability level was when I first got here," Ireland said. "I knew that scoring was a problem. We lost in scrimmages to McDonogh (3-0) and Severn (2-0), but things started to come together when we scrimmaged Liberty. We started to realize that we could score."
The Vikings sent an early message that things would be different this year, when they got off to a 2-0 start against non-league competition -- doubling their win total from the previous year before league play had even started. Hebron went on to beat defending county champion Oakland Mills 1-0, and would lose tough decisions to Glenelg (1-0) and Centennial (2-1).
Hebron's season was all the more satisfying when one considers how many players contributed. Senior Linda Colder and sophomores Katy Anders and Stacy Kubis scored three goals apiece. Seven players scored. Goalkeeper JoAnn Liberto, one of the county's more surprising players, averaged nine saves a game.
"I felt the kids played up to what I expected. Their skills improved, and they grew into winners," said Ireland, who added she plans to return next year.
"A lot can change in one year, but I want to come back."