Playing in sync

Mandy Pickard and Stacy Slessinger's bond has raised the North Carroll field hockey team's stock.


North Carroll field hockey coach Denean Koontz always preferred to rely on experienced upper classmen in key roles for the Panthers. But the longtime North Carroll coach quickly realized she had something special when Mandy Pickard and Stacy Slessinger came to the school three years ago.

"They're two personalities where it was a very good decision," Koontz said. "They were able to play at a higher level as younger players not only in games but during [practices]."

Pickard is in her fourth season on the varsity, and Slessinger has been there for three seasons. The seniors have become one of the more potent scoring duos in recent Carroll County history.

Pickard is a center midfielder who creates all kinds of trouble with her tremendous stick skills, while Slessinger is a left wing with great speed and finishing skills that are tough to stop.

They've combined for 22 goals and 12 assists this season and are two reasons that No. 12 North Carroll was 9-1 through the middle of last week.

Beyond their individual talent, what makes them more dangerous is how well they know each other and work together in games - a product of having played together for six years.

Slessinger is the county's top scorer with 12 goals and seven assists through North Carroll's first 10 games. She's become a strong finisher who knows how to cause trouble around the cage.

Pickard ranks second in the county with 10 goals and five assists, and she does things all over the field. She can blast the ball from anywhere and played forward as a freshman before moving back to center midfield, a position that gives her more freedom.

"They're just amazing, both of them," said former South Carroll coach Erin Soulen, who has coached against them and also watched them play in a recreation league that she runs each summer. "They're excellent together because they both bring different qualities to the game - and they can read each other because they've been playing together for so long."

Pickard and Slessinger began playing on the same team in the sixth grade. They originally competed in the North Carroll Recreation programs and often found themselves on the same squad - and their skills grew together over the years, along with their friendship.

"We've played together for so long [that] we just know where each other is at all times," Slessinger said.

Said Koontz: "Mandy always knows where Stacy is, and Mandy can always find her. Mandy is a knowledgeable player that knows where to put the ball, and Stacy knows where to be."

Pickard said she started noticing the two were clicking when they were on a team in the eighth grade. When working on the three-person weave drills in practice, Pickard realized she could always find Slessinger, and that her teammate had little trouble receiving passes.

"Playing [together] a lot helps a lot on the field and off," Pickard said. "I guess we've been together so long that I can trust Stacy [because] I know if I hit the ball to the left side, I know she'll come to get it."

They've also played together on a club team. Pickard competes on Hymax, a team based in Towson that plays in tournaments. When Hymax needed another player before it took a trip to California last May, Pickard suggested Slessinger, who joined the group and headed West.

As much as they've enjoyed playing together, the pair faces the prospect of no longer being teammates after this season ends. Both want to play in college, but Pickard is thinking about McDaniel while Salisbury is Slessigner's top choice. They still could wind up at the same school, but it's looking like they might not.

"It will be hard because I won't find another player like her," Slessinger said.

Said Pickard: "I think it's going to be really hard. I'm so used to Stacy being there. It's going to be a huge change for me."

The duo presently is focused on the rest of North Carroll's season. The Panthers have been strong, losing only to No. 4 Century in overtime, 2-1, earlier this month.

"It's my senior year, and I want to ... do it for the team," Slessinger said. "We just have a strong defense, midfield and offense."

Not to mention two players with a unique chemistry and an abundance of talent that was evident from their first days at North Carroll.

"I had a lot of confidence in them as freshmen because they each work hard ... during the season and out of the season," Koontz said. "That's something you just can't teach."

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