Marriotts Ridge field hockey coach Stacie Gado understood it would take time for her team to gel together as a cohesive unit.
The Mustangs returned seven starters from last season but lost players to graduation. They brought up sophomores and juniors without varsity experience. In the midfield and attack, Gado said she’s used several different lineup combinations with the hope of finding “what works in the puzzle."
Add in three overtime losses and a difficult out-of-county schedule, and Marriotts Ridge had lost six of its first eight games before defeating Atholton, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon.
But in a 1-0 win against No. 12 River Hill on Thursday, Gado’s team showed how dangerous it can be when all three position groups work together. It shut down the Hawks on defense and controlled possession in the midfield. Up top, senior Sarah Bengermino netted the game’s only goal as the Mustangs improved to 2-1 in county play.
“It felt like they’re putting together all of the things we’re doing in practice,” Gado said. “They’re finally clicking, they’re working together as a unit and recognizing that the more they play together, the stronger they are.”
Marriotts Ridge (2-1, 4-6) controlled possession, especially in the second half, and outshot River Hill, 11-5. The Mustangs forced junior goalkeeper Caroline Kral to make seven saves, while their goalie, senior Katie Garman, only had three stops.
And much of these totals came after River Hill (2-1, 6-3-1) gave up an early goal.
About five minutes into the game, sophomore Elle Clevenger controlled the ball but decided against unleashing the Mustangs’ first shot. She slid a pass to Bengermino, who scored to put the home team up 1-0.
The rest of the half proved evenly matched. There were limited scoring opportunities, and when there were, the opposing defense stepped up. Senior Gaby Hamburger, who notched a hat trick in the Hawks’ win at Centennial on Tuesday, failed to convert either of her first-period chances around the cage.
“We knew Quinn [Kindbom] and Gaby were going to work off of each other with give-and-go’s,” Garman said. “We wanted to mark them and not chase the ball, so if the ball came back to them, we would just block it right out.”
While Marriotts Ridge continued to shutout the Hawks after halftime, Gado emphasized for her girls to maintain a consistent attack. There have been games this season, such as the 2-1 overtime defeat to Mt. Hebron, where the Mustangs scored first and lost because they couldn’t net another goal. Any time River Hill earned a corner, Gado said, was a prime opportunity to tie the game.
In response, the Mustangs came out of intermission as if they were the ones trailing by a goal, sending shot after shot towards the cage and pressuring Kral to keep River Hill from falling further behind. By the 15-minute mark of the final frame, Gado’s group had put five more shots on goal.
“We can’t outlet the ball,” Hawks coach Shelly Chamness said. “That’s our whole issue, and so we get bottled up in the back. We’re going to work on that until it is fixed.”
The momentum shifted in River Hill’s favor late in the game, the Hawks aggressively pushing to net the equalizer. In many instances, Kindbom gained control of possession and launched passes downfield, banking on Hamburger to beat out Mustangs defenders for the ball. If she could do that, then only Garman stood between the Hawks and a knotted score.
But Hamburger, the county’s leading point scorer a year ago, couldn’t even get a clean shot off.
The Mustangs defense, comprised of three returning starters, put the finishing touches on what Gado and her players called a team win.
“Emily Talentino on the left, Emy Nelson on the right and Bailey Christianson and the strength that they’ve got have been consistent since last year,” Gado said. “From the beginning of the season until now, that has been no question who our defense is going to be.”