At the beginning of this season, Fallston field hockey coach Alice Puckett didn't expect all that much from her team.
Most of her starters had little or no varsity experience, so Puckett expected a rebuilding year. The rebuilding took two games. That's when Puckett discovered the Cougars were better than she thought.
"I knew when we played Elkton and beat them, 1-0," said Puckett, of the second game of the season. "That was the best game we played all year. It was one of the best high school games I've ever seen. I knew if we could continue at that level it would be a good season."
Puckett, The Baltimore Sun's Harford County Field Hockey Coach of the Year, guided the Cougars to the county title, winning every league game.
They finished with an 11-2 record. Their only losses were by one goal -- to Francis Scott Key, 2-1 in overtime, and to Rising Sun, 1-0 in the Class 1A regional championship.
At the start of the season, the Cougars were unranked in The Baltimore Sun's top 10. They vaulted to No. 4 last week, but dropped to No. 6 this week after the loss to Rising Sun.
Puckett, who played four years at Bridgewater College in Virginia, is no stranger to building top teams with newcomers. In 1990, the Cougars won a third straight state title with one returnee on defense.
The Cougars have won four state titles during Puckett's 10 years coach. In the past six years, the Cougars have won three state, four regional and five county titles.
Puckett forces her starters to stay sharp, because they know they can lose those starting spots at any time.
"I'll play the younger ones. I want the best 11 out there," she said. "We don't have guaranteed starting spots. They know they have to earn their positions every day and the younger kids are coming in to push them, which makes them get better."