By putting field hockey first, goalkeeper Camryn Kelbaugh aiming to lead Hereford to fourth straight state title

For The Baltimore Sun

Hereford field hockey coach Caitlin Duvall never worries that her senior goalkeeper isn't devoting enough energy to practice.

In fact, at times, the fourth-year coach frets that Camryn Kelbaugh may be working on her game just a bit too much.

"This summer she sent me an email: ‘Coach, I need some cones and I need to borrow a ladder because I've got some really good drills I want to keep working on,' " recalled Duvall. "I was leaving for vacation, so I just left them on the porch. She picked them up, and I got them back the day before tryouts."

While friends were hanging out or heading to the beach, Kelbaugh was striving to improve her footwork in front of the cage. It's that kind of dedication that puts the 17-year-old in a class of her own in goal.

In her three years as a starter, Kelbaugh has helped lead Hereford to three straight Class 2A state titles, with the Bulls earning a 52-6-2 record along the way. Last season, she saved 93 percent of opponents' shots, had 10 shutouts and anchored a defensive unit that gave up just two goals in its final 10 games.

For her efforts, she was named All-Metro first-team by The Baltimore Sun and first-team all-state by the Field Hockey Coaches Association of Maryland. She also earned a chance to continue her career at Division I Providence, which last year finished second in the Big East.

From the time she became a goalie in fifth grade, Kelbaugh has made it her mission to become one of the best.

As an incoming freshman, it was her tireless work ethic that helped her win the starting job on varsity, even though the Bulls also featured a returning senior in goal. She became the lone freshman to make varsity, thanks in part to the many shuttles back and forth to the field from her mom.

"She would be like, ‘You need to settle down. I can't drive you all of the time up to the turf,' " Kelbaugh said. "So now I've found a good balance with it. But when I have something I need to work on, and I know I have time, I probably prioritize getting better at field hockey over just hanging out with my friends."

All that fine-tuning serves to improve her already impressive natural abilities. Her 5-foot-9 frame gives her the wingspan to reach shots that would elude many counterparts, and her impressive core strength lets her explode toward loose balls.

As a sophomore, Kelbaugh showed off those skills for the indoor track team, placing sixth in the shot put at the Baltimore County championships and third in the region. She threw both shot and discus through the end of that year, and is thinking about returning to track again this winter.

The training, she said, translates almost seamlessly to field hockey.

"I didn't think it would help that much, but as I started doing it, we'd do these workouts where it was about sprinting and agility," Kelbaugh said. "You'd see so much overlap in it. As a goalie, you're never going to sprint a 400 [meter], but you'll do those quick movements, and that's what shot and discus kind of brought with them."

But the skills she's perfected at blocking shots are just part of the story.

It's her ability to master the cerebral part of the game that has turned her into a star.

She utilizes the same analytical skills that are driving her toward a possible biochemistry major in college to self-evaluate her performance in the cage.

"Camryn is a very reflective player," Duvall said. "She can kind of analyze her own game and say, ‘I did this really well' or ‘I need to work on this.' Then she'll go out and work on it. She doesn't need someone to tell her."

Young defenders, however, often need that guidance and perspective, and Kelbaugh is happy to oblige, often acting as another coach on the field.

"You have to be able to communicate with your defense, and you have to know the game so well to understand what's happening on the field," she said. "You have to have your teammates' trust, so they can play calmly and effectively. It's inevitable you're going to get scored on, so you can't let that get in your head when it happens. You just have to brush yourself off, talk to your teammates and be like, ‘Alright, let's get the next one.' "

Kelbaugh said her "dream" is to some day become a field hockey coach.

When she needs to get away, though, she works on her 1987 Jeep Wrangler. There's little in life she finds more relaxing than putting aside her daily responsibilities to take a dive under the hood.

"When I'm stressed out, I just go out and work on my Jeep," she said. "It's so much fun to get away, get my hands moving and tinker with that a little bit. It's completely different from everything else."

On the turf, however, she's hoping for more of the same this season. Though several faces have changed, especially on defense, the Bulls are expected to vie for their fourth straight state title — something no field hockey team in Maryland has accomplished since Pocomoke won eight straight, ending in 2010.

While players refrain from talking about the possibility, it's something that most can't help but think about.

"Obviously that's in the back of our minds," Kelbaugh said. "It would be amazing to get a four-peat, but as a team we just want to make sure we're playing the best we can together."

Either way, Kelbaugh is certain to have her end covered.

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