Westminster's young team suffers disappointment at season's end but regroups for a fresh run in the Class 3A playoffs

Refusing to settle

Field hockey

October 29, 2006|By Bill Free | Bill Free,sun reporter

A late-season slide against the two toughest teams on the schedule could have spoiled the enthusiasm and confidence of a young and talented Westminster field hockey team that had ideas of a Class 3A state championship after starting with eight shutouts and eight wins.

However, the Owls (10-2-1) are still standing after taking back-to-back losses from Century and North Carroll and ending the regular season with a 1-1 tie against South Carroll.

Westminster beat Tuscarora, 3-0, in a Class 3A West quarterfinal on Thursday. The Owls will face Bethesda-Chevy Chase on Tuesday in a Class 3A West semifinal.

In the 1-0 loss to Century, No. 11 Westminster allowed its first goal of the season after eight consecutive shutouts. North Carroll followed with a 2-1 overtime victory.

After the three late-season smudges on what had been a perfect season, first-year coach Mary Rivera could not find much solace in the fact her team had outscored the opposition 49-4.

The four goals against led to the two losses and the tie.

"Those were an important four," Rivera said. "I'd rather have lost, 8-0."

Any loss to longtime rival North Carroll is always tough for Westminster, but the defeat to Century might have been more upsetting. Many of the Westminster players had trouble hiding their disappointment.

"Pretty much everybody's heart dropped," said Rivera of the Century goal that came 15 minutes into the first half. "You could see it. We called a timeout and got everybody together. But you could see it. They still played hard, and they still wanted it. But it definitely hurt."

In all, Rivera said her team was hurt more by the loss than the goal, because the 11 juniors had never experienced a loss to Century before as members of the junior varsity. The Owls had tied Century twice the past two seasons.

Rivera, 26, had been the JV coach the past two seasons and she has meshed perfectly with the 11 juniors who moved to the varsity this season. In keeping with the youthful theme, Rivera's assistant is Shannon Finch, 22.

The team's top scorer, Jen Hardesty, is one of those juniors who has watched this year's team come together at the varsity level under Rivera.

"She's hard, and she expects a lot out of us," said Hardesty, who has seven goals and eight assists. "We always want to deliver for her. She's never satisfied with the win. There's always something you have to improve on. We've just grown to improve, and we've always known we can never settle for less than our best."

Now Hardesty and her teammates are trying to put what they learned from the finish to use in the playoffs.

"Century was a big rival and we felt we could definitely win that game," Hardesty said. "It was a really big game and a tough loss. I still feel it was the best game we played this season, dominating play at times but not scoring. We played our hearts out. We knew we had to pick up our spirits because our next hardest game was North Carroll."

Hardesty discovered that the team was feeling down in practice the next day.

"Everyone was kind of sad, no one was talking as much as they usually do," Hardesty said. "We had to pick up our heads and realize we still had half a season to go, and we still had the playoffs and we needed to play well if we were going anywhere."

The junior forward believes her team needs to pass "really well, with short crisp passes from one side of the field to the other, to throw off the defense" to beat the top teams. Fast breaks with speed and quickness can no longer carry the team like it did at the junior varsity level, Hardesty said.

Losing was "a different experience" for a Westminster team that Hardesty said, "wants to win. We're not a team that is used to losing at all. We feel it's only right to win. It's not right at all to lose. It's not acceptable."

While Hardesty is the top offensive weapon, junior center halfback Ally Rager is the defensive standout who led the eight-shutout charge.

"Ally just controls the field," Rivera said. "She switches fields all the time for us. She backs up all our other defenders. She's always back on defense for us, she pushes the ball into the circle on offense for us, and we have her playing pretty much the whole field wherever we need her."

Rager said her team has made some significant strides in the past couple of days, playing a more team-oriented style of field hockey in a 3-0 victory over Middletown and playing well under adverse conditions in a 1-1 tie with South Carroll on Monday.

Rivera believes her team has regained its early-season spark. She also liked the camaraderie she saw during the traditional gift giving and team party that took place on Seniors Night.

One of those seniors who was honored was sweeper Jackie Marchski while three more juniors, forwards Megan James and Beth Jancuska and wing Carolyn Bonck, were praised for joining Hardesty at the top of the team in scoring.

James is second to Hardesty with eight goals and five assists, Bonck is third at eight goals and three assists and Jancuska has five goals and four assists.

bfree7066@hotmail.com

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