Undefeated Atholton flourishes under direction of O'Neill

Raiders top win total of previous 3 seasons

Field hockey

September 20, 2001|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Here's a believe-it-or-not story.

In the three previous seasons, Atholton's field hockey team compiled a won-loss record of 1-38 and scored a grand total of six goals.

After three games under new coach Jen O'Neill, the team is undefeated (2-0-1) and has scored five goals.

"I'm real enthused about opening the season undefeated," O'Neill said. "The kids are realizing they have the potential to make anything happen this season."

The Raiders toppled Glen Burnie, 4-1, on a hat trick by Michelle Levin Sept. 6.

Then, the day after the terrorist attacks on America, Atholton nipped Edgewod, 1-0. And last Friday it tied Liberty, 0-0, behind a 20-save game from goalkeeper Ali Olson.

The team overcame emotional pitfalls during its last two games.

O'Neill, who teaches at Hammond Middle School, thought that schools should have closed the day after the attacks. At the least, she thought, sports teams should not have played.

"If the professionals who are paid millions of dollars did not want to play, then how can you expect teen-agers to play?"

She felt her team muddled through somehow on a combination of heart and courage.

The Friday game against Liberty originally was scheduled for Monday.

The game was played at Liberty, where the scorer's table was draped with an American flag and three votive candles were lit before the game - one red, one white and one blue.

"There was a lot of sobbing and hugging at the candlelight vigil," O'Neill said. "It went on for six or seven minutes until I finally went over and took the candles."

The team wore black bands on their left sleeves to honor the dead.

O'Neill said the attack really struck her team hard because several parents of Atholton students work at the Pentagon, including one junior varsity player. And many other parents work in Washington.

"A lot of the girls were angry and didn't understand why they had to play on a proclaimed day of prayer and remembrance. There was a lot of crying and confusion."

O'Neill, whose knowledge and animated coaching style have pumped new life into the program, said her team is much better this week. "I've seen some smiles coming back on their faces."

She'll undoubtedly see more smiles if the Raiders can upset No. 10-ranked Centennial today .

It's homecoming of sorts for O'Neill, who spent the past five seasons coaching at Centennial - three as junior varsity coach and two seasons as varsity goalkeeper coach.

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