From underdog to the top dog Field hockey: The surging Catonsville Comets have knocked off Hereford in the Baltimore County Heron Division and are positioned to become the new county power.

October 13, 1998|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

In early September, Catonsville's field hockey team focused only on its first game, but Hereford coach Tammy Mundie already worried about facing the Comets more than a month later.

Mundie pegged the Comets as the team most likely to end the Bulls' two-year run as Baltimore County champs.

"They were young last year and they weren't losing much," said Mundie. "They were a bunch of kids that had a lot of untapped talent and sure enough "

Sure enough, the Comets pulled the upset. Sophomore Sarah Slafkosky scored the game winner in sudden-death overtime to edge the Bulls, 2-1, on Oct. 2.

As the Comets piled on Slafkosky in the cage, they celebrated more than just a single win. They celebrated the latest step in a dizzying climb for the county's fastest rising hockey program.

Just two years after moving up from the county's weaker division, the Comets are in first place in the tough Heron Division with an 8-0-1 overall record and the No. 13 ranking. If they can beat Towson and Pikesville this week, they will win the division thus clinching a berth in the county title game.

"Of all the teams we've played in the county, they were the best," said Mundie. "They were, by far, the most together team. They had good connections, good skills and they never gave up. They have a great shot at going undefeated."

The turning point for the Comets came last year in postseason. They upset Liberty, 4-3, and Broadneck, 4-1, to win the regional championship and reach the state Class 3A semifinals for the first time in nine years.

The Comets had high hopes for the state tournament, but as soon as they took the field at Goucher College, they realized just how much further they needed to go. They lost 2-0 to Northern of Calvert County. The Comets matched Northern's heart; they could not match their skill and experience.

"When we got to states, we were a little naive about everything," said junior Erin Coberth. "I was shocked, because I came to Goucher thinking it was going to be all fun and games and we were going to win, but it was a lot more intense than I expected. This year we'll be ready, because we've seen it and we know what to expect."

The Comets immediately committed to boosting their skills to Northern's level. Most went to James Madison's elite summer camp. Several played indoor hockey. This fall, Slafkosky and Coberth were accepted into the U.S. Field Hockey Association's Olympic Development-style Futures Program.

"Last year, they had the desire, they had the intensity, but a lot of them were one-dimensional players," said Comets coach Kathy Schuyler, the 1997 City/County Coach of the Year. "Now, because they had fun last year, they are willing to take the time and the energy to learn new things."

The hard work has turned the Comets from underdog to top dog in the county title race, but the players haven't felt the shift.

"I don't feel pressure," said Slafkosky. "I still feel we're proving ourselves, because we're young. We may be the team to beat now in some ways, but we still have to prove to everyone that we are."

The Comets have only two seniors on the roster -- Kristen Hines and Kristin MacLeod -- but they have nine sophomores and a freshman. Six of those underclassmen often start -- Slafkosky, Gayle Bradshaw, Sarah Starsoneck, Rachel Constantino, Helen Brooks and Andrea Denton -- along with Coberth, Hines, Kara MacLeod, Chrissy Blake, Carrie Lowman and goalie Katie Kirby.

"I had no idea that we'd have the quality of freshmen and sophomores that we've had," said Schuyler, who kept seven freshmen on varsity last year.

They also want to get back to the state tournament. In the meantime, however, they are focused on the division race, because if they lose one game this week, No. 11 Hereford (8-1) likely will win the division.

"We've always got it in the back of our minds that we have a chance to win the county title," said Blake, "but it's just that -- it's a chance. It might be a better chance than it was last week, but you never know what can happen."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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