THERE WAS A moment during a timeout in Thursday's Anne Arundel County field hockey championship game when Severna Park coach Lil Shelton had nothing to say to her team.
Now, normally coaches get speechless when their charges are playing so poorly where nothing that isn't expletive-laden will adequately communicate the depth of anger they have at that moment.
In this case, however, the Falcons had played so splendidly against South River on the way to a 4-0 win that there was nothing Shelton could say.
"We came into it anticipating a good, tough game, because South River is always tough," Shelton said. "I knew that the skills would be high and that their stickwork would be good, too. What I did not know was the level of play that my girls rose to. I was so impressed."
How could she not have been? The Falcons (15-0), who have topped the area polls all season, may very well be the best fall sports team in the Baltimore area.
Severna Park has outscored its opposition 94-2 this season, with three wins of 10 goals or more, including a 14-0 victory over Old Mill, a 15-0 pasting of Glen Burnie and a 10-0 drubbing of North County.
It has reached the point that it just might be illegal to have an Anne Arundel field hockey championship game without Severna Park present. Thursday's win -- their 23rd straight dating back to last season -- gave the Falcons their 10th consecutive victory in a county championship game and kept them as the only county program to win a title game.
Add in the fact that they were declared county champs in 26 of the other 27 years that Anne Arundel has offered field hockey, and it's not a stretch to use the words "field hockey dynasty" and "Severna Park" in the same sentence.
"They have a tradition of being awesome," said South River coach Laura Hoffner. "Nobody wants to break the tradition. They don't want to be the first team to not win the county championship game. And they play all the time."
The state tournament begins Tuesday and the Falcons will be heavy favorites to defend their Maryland title and claim a staggering 15th state championship.
As is the case every year at Severna Park, the Falcons are a blend of speed and technical precision. Their passes are crisp, their stickwork borders on magical and the defense is stout -- so much so that no team has scored on them since Sept. 15, a streak covering 10 games.
The Seahawks (11-3), who could find themselves in the Class 4A championship game, gave Severna Park as stern a test as they've had in weeks Thursday, staying on attack as much as on defense. But two late first-half goals got South River back on its heels, forcing the Seahawks to play the Falcons' mystique as much as their human form.
"I definitely felt some frustration on the other team's part [Thursday]," said senior forward Abbi Horn. "We try to ignore it. We don't like to go out knowing that we're playing the other team on the field. We try to play our game and take control, instead of letting them play their game and defending them."
Horn (10 goals, 18 assists) and junior Tara Gardner (27 goals, five assists) lead a brilliant offense, but the main cog in the Severna Park machine is Shelton, the only coach the school has had in the 26 years field hockey has been offered as a varsity sport.
Shelton, who has a granddaughter on the Severna Park junior varsity, has spread the gospel of field hockey in the county, offering summer camps, recreational programs and an indoor program.
"The girls are exposed to field hockey not quite year-round, because I don't want them to get burned out on it ... but for maybe half or three-quarters of the year, they're touching the ball," Shelton said. "Then they come here to our team and we have to put all these together and make a team out of them. And that's what I enjoy, taking this skill and that skill, fuse it, and now we're together and we work together. That's the fun of coaching."
As more and more teams get better around the area and the state, the joy of winning becomes more complete for Shelton. And winning, no matter who it comes against or how it comes, never, ever gets old.
"This is the level that you want to play at," Shelton said. "There are some teams that you play in the county that don't have this kind of ability and it's not as much fun to play. This is more fun to play. These girls came out here and we just told them to go out and have fun."