Coaching stability is secret of success

September 06, 1992|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

The girls with the sticks in Carroll County high schools seldom have to apologize for their seasons.

These girls play a mean game of field hockey and have consistently been bringing home more than their share of state championships since the state tournaments began in 1976.

Francis Scott Key has won five state 1A titles, Westminster won its fourth 4A championship last year, South Carroll took its third 3A title last year, Liberty has won two 2A state titles and North Carroll had a strong program in the mid-1980s.

So what is it with these girls from the small towns outside the roaring Washington and Baltimore suburbs?

Are they meaner, stronger, faster or more talented?

None of the above.

"It's just that the girls from this county play an aggressive style with a never-give-up attitude," said third-year South Carroll coach Stacy Stem who has guided the Cavaliers to a state 3A title and overall 24-3-3 record in two years. "Our skill level is not that good but we play together and win together."

It's a style of play that most of the county coaches have learned somewhere along the way from two women at Westminster High School (co-coaches Sue Hooper and Brenda Baker) who have dedicated most of their lives to field hockey.

"They eat, sleep and live field hockey," said Stem who played at South Carroll and Liberty before going on to be an All-America player at Salisbury State. "They're unbelievable."

Hooper is in her 21st year of coaching the sport and Baker is starting her 13th season.

Hooper and Baker not only have coached most of the county head field hockey coaches in high school, but they've guided them into college programs as players and then helped them get coaching jobs back in Carroll County.

"If it wouldn't have been for Sue Hooper, I would have never gone to college [Salisbury State]," said Liberty High head coach Courtney Vaughn. "First she kept me interested in the sport in high school [Westminster] and then she kept up with me when I was at Salisbury. It was obvious she cared about me."

Baker coached Stem as a freshman at South Carroll, and Hooper coached Mindy Wagner at Westminster. Wagner is the first-year head coach at Francis Scott Key.

Wagner replaces Marie Wilson who coached the Eagles for 21 years before being forced out for health reasons.

Baker believes the stability in the coaching ranks by the likes of Hooper and Wilson has played a major role in the success of Carroll County field hockey, more so than the aggressive style of play she and Hooper have handed down.

"There hasn't been a big turnover," said Baker. "We're mostly products of the ones who coached us. I think it helps everybody involved to have girls come back and coach who have played in the county. They're familiar with the kind of kids here and seem to care a lot more about them."

Hooper and Baker have been such strong influences at Westminster over the past years that they have been able to fend off the challenge of girls' soccer that has hurt some of the other Carroll County field hockey programs.

North Carroll, Liberty and South Carroll have all had some of their top female athletes choose soccer over the traditional girls' sport of field hockey.

Soccer is easier to play and has more programs available at the recreational level, according to the field hockey coaches in the county.

"We were afraid of losing kids to soccer, so we went out and did a tough recruiting job and it paid off," said Hooper.

North Carroll and Francis Scott Key are also starting to fend off the challenge from soccer by establishing a "futures" field hockey program for young girls to play in their areas.

Meanwhile, the Stacy Stems, Courtney Vaughns, Mindy Wagners keep coming back to coach in the county.

"I came back because field hockey is well-known and gets a lot of recognition in Carroll County," said Wagner. "It's a snowball effect, like winning breeds more winning."

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