Commentary: Bidding a fond farewell to field hockey after five years

Earlier this week, while putting together my mass email requesting fall sports preview information, I, the reporter who has covered field hockey since the 2007-08 school year, started to add Harford County's field hockey coaches to the list.

I had gotten to Fallston before I realized, I'm not covering field hockey this season. I emailed Aegis sports editor Randy McRoberts to tell him about having almost accidentally sending out 12 bogus preview requests, saying, "old habits die hard," and he, having been at this a little bit longer than me, and having seen sports on his coverage list get switched around many times, simply replied: "yes, they do."

When the fall sports season of 2007 was close to kicking off, I had been at The Aegis for about six weeks, and my main duties to that point consisted of covering the IronBirds and that year's Cal Ripken World Series. As I've said many times in this column, baseball is my favorite form of athletics, and aside from soccer, I understand it better than any other sport, so neither of those tasks was too intimidating for a wet-behind-the-ears sportswriter. About two weeks before the first official high school games began, Randy handed me a list of sports that were going to be under my care. Reading the list, I said, "boys soccer, yeah!; boys volleyball, hmm, OK, that's an easy one to figure out; and . . . field hockey, are you serious?"

I simply knew nothing about the sport, and the idea of attending games and trying to write intelligently about it did not sound pleasant. I figured I'd have to buy a rule book and a strategy guide so the local fans weren't calling me out every time one of my stories went to print. Up until then, my only real-life experience with field hockey came during high school, when me and my fellow soccer players would take five-minute breaks from practice to go watch our school's field hockey team play its games. The team during that era was pretty terrible, and my teammates and I would usually comment on how the games never took on any real rhythm because the stupid refs couldn't go three seconds without blowing their whistles.

Funny, gossipy interlude: During the summer of 2003, one year after having graduated from college and one year into my first stint as a journalist, I dated a field hockey player who was a member of a very strong Division II college team. As we knew she was headed back to school in the fall, things never got too serious, so we never had any real arguments, except for the one, which started when I said, "so, do the referees have to take, like, conditioning courses, because they must have lungs like opera singers to blow the whistle that much." After referring to me as part of the human anatomy, she explained, "you've only seen bad high school teams play, so shut up until you've watched some quality teams." Alas, nine years on, that woman is now the head coach of an UCBAC field hockey program, though you'll have to guess who she is, since I'm not going to drag her name through the mud (that's easily the most salacious thing I've ever written in my column, and I hope it helps sell some newspapers).

It turns out, she was right saying my opinion of the sport was jaded by having only seen poor teams. It only took me about a week to figure out that the field hockey being played in the UCBAC was top notch. The 2007 season, especially the Chesapeake Division race, was a blockbuster. If I remember correctly, both of the Fallston vs. C. Milton Wright games were decided by one goal, with Fallston taking both of them. Also, Fallston, which would go on to win the first of three straight state titles that year by defeating Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 1-0, in the 3A championship, didn't even win the Chesapeake Division that year.

The upper division crown went to Rising Sun, which defeated the Cougars in overtime to give them their only UCBAC loss of the season. You know which team won the 2A state title in 2007? Rising Sun. If there was ever a testament to the quality of play in this region, it's right there; two squads that finished one-two in the same six-team division went on to take their respective state crowns in the same year.

Of course, every season since then has been good, and the field hockey teams of Harford County have had more success than any other group you can name. As if I haven't mentioned the Cougars enough, you have the Fallston dynasty winning four state titles in five years, the meteoric ascendance of the Patterson Mill team, which has won three regional titles and gone to one state championship game in just four years of varsity play, the North Harford team grinding out back-to-back 3A North titles and also making it to the state final game. There's a longer list, but I think that one highlights my point pretty well.

So, it's with sadness that I say I'm not covering field hockey this season. As I was recently accepted into a graduate writing program and will have to attend class on Monday and Wednesday nights, I took over coverage of golf and boys soccer, which are easier to work with given my schedule. So long, field hockey, it's been real.

Tune in next week, and I'll have a best-of, top-10, Harford County field hockey's greatest hits type of list.

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