A culture of winning

Severna Park is eager to live up to its rich field hockey tradition by capturing another state title.

Severna Park is determined to live up to its rich tradition by capturing another state title.


When sisters Tara and Julie Gardner of Severna Park step on the grass during a field hockey game, they sometimes think of their mother, Chrissy, who graduated in 1982 after winning three state championships with the Falcons.

"When we think about how well my mom's team did, it makes us want to try harder and do our best so we can win states, too," Julie Gardner, a sophomore, said.

Chrissy Gardner, then known as Chrissy DeGuzman, played for longtime Severna Park coach Lil Shelton in high school, and now comes to support her daughters at nearly every game as they pass through Shelton's historic program.

The Gardner family, like many others, is proud to be associated with a Severna Park field hockey program that is second to none in the state.

Under Shelton, who is in her 31st season, the Falcons have won 14 state titles and 11 consecutive county championships.

Only Bethesda-Chevy Chase of Montgomery County with its 13 state titles, including a 2-1 victory over the Falcons in last year's state finals, comes close to those numbers.

"It's awesome," senior Tara Gardner said of playing for such a storied team. "It's really fun to keep the legacy going. Each year, we try hard to keep the tradition alive."

With Severna Park's tradition of winning comes admiration and respect, but also a lot of pressure from high expectations, players said.

"It's a lot of fun," said sophomore Hayley Rausch, the area's leading scorer. "But there's also a lot of pressure. Everyone expects you to win and if you don't, people are like, `What happened?' "

Junior Shayna Stearns, a standout on defense for the Falcons, agreed.

"A lot of people are watching us," she said. "If we do lose, people are shocked."

Despite the pressure, Severna Park hasn't been doing much losing this year.

At 17-1, the Falcons are ranked No. 1 and have beaten some of the area's top teams, such as Roland Park, South River twice - including a 3-2 overtime win for the county title - and No. 2 Mount Hebron in the Class 3A East regional final.

The Falcons, who last won a state title in 2003, are marching toward their 15th state crown and looking to avenge their runner-up finish from a year ago.

Top teams aren't made without top players and Severna Park certainly has its share.

At the forefront for the Falcons is Rausch, who has 34 goals and nine assists this season. She scored all three goals in the Falcons' come-from-behind win over South River, the defending 4A state champion, in the county title game.

She scored three goals in the Falcons' 4-0 win over River Hill in the regional playoffs, and had two goals in both the 4-1 win over Mount Hebron in the regional final and a 3-2 win over North Carroll in the Class 3A state semifinals.

Though it's hard to tell by watching her compete, Rausch is a relatively new field hockey player. Her teammates, including Julie Gardner and Stearns, persuaded her to give up soccer, which she played in middle school, to come out for the field hockey team.

"I kept telling them that soccer was better, but they kept saying `field hockey, field hockey,' " Rausch recalled. "So I tried it out and I really liked it."

Tara Gardner, who has 14 goals and 10 assists, also is among the area's scoring leaders.

The Falcons, however, can hurt teams from many spots on the field, not just those occupied by Rausch and the older Gardner.

Senior Jill Puffenbarger has eight goals and 13 assists; Julie Gardner has nine goals, seven assists; junior Ali Hankins has scored five times and notched nine assists; and junior Amanda Himmelheber has seven goals and three assists.

"We score by committee," Shelton said. "The players really don't care about who scores. They would just as soon make a good pass that gets a goal as shoot themselves."

As intimidating as Severna Park's offense is - the Falcons have scored 91 goals this season - its defense is just as tough.

Severna Park has allowed 11 goals the entire season, and goalie Corinne Manuel stops 89 percent of the opposition's shots.

The offense and defense stay sharp by facing off in practice, players said. "Playing against our defense in practice is twice as hard as playing in games," Rausch said.

The players hope those tough practices pay off with yet another state championship.

"We've thought a lot about last year's state finals game," Manuel said. "It really motivates us. We really want to win it this year."

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