Knowing she'd have to go into this season with an uncharacteristically young squad, McDonogh field hockey coach Denise Wolf eagerly scheduled an early game against Baltimore County public school power Hereford.
The idea for Wolf was to see how the remnants of her defending Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champions, who graduated 12 seniors, would match up with a team on the level of the three-time defending Class 2A state champion Bulls.
On Monday, the Eagles showed there's still plenty left in the tank.
Host No. 4 McDonogh scored a goal in each half and held No. 11 Hereford to six shots for the game in a 2-0 win.
The Eagles (3-0), however, might have suffered a costly loss with 12:56 left when junior Katelyn Whittle, their top returning scorer from last season, was inadvertently struck in the jaw with an errant stick, leaving her bloodied with a potentially serious facial injury.
She was escorted off the field by athletic trainers and didn't return.
The specter of possibly having to play without its top offensive threat for an extended period made the afternoon all the more important for McDonogh.
"I just thought it would be a good way to see where we are compared to one of the top teams," Wolf said. "I thought our defense played really well. They've been clearing the ball well, and their positioning is beautiful. A team like this will show us what we need to work on, and that's, I would say, offense."
Despite several prime scoring chances early in the game, including a shot by Whittle that rolled just wide left, the Eagles couldn't cash in until the end of the first half, when midfielder Emma Schettig took a long pass from the top by defender Ryan Gillin, then made a move and fired a shot that beat All-Metro goalie Camryn Kelbaugh to her right.
"She passed it to me right outside the circle, then I dodged a defender and just flicked it into the low corner," Schettig said.
Despite a handful of offensive threats by Hereford (2-3), McDonogh all but sealed the win five minutes into the second half, when Whittle received Ally Pitts' corner, then fed forward Kendall Kurlander for the shot.
For Wolf, her team's inability to capitalize on more scoring chances continues to be a concern.
"Offensively we're doing that first dodge and we're not getting that second dodge," Wolf said. "We're just sending it right into their sticks, so we still need to work on controlling our ball within the offensive circle."
The challenge seems more daunting for Hereford, which is attempting to rebuild at several key positions, relying on several sophomores with no previous varsity experience.
The Bulls have three losses this season — half as many as they had the past three seasons combined, when they compiled a 52-6-2 record.
"Obviously, we didn't get the outcome we wanted, but we learned a lot early on about what we need to work on," coach Caitlin Duvall said. "We kind of are working as individual lines and not one cohesive unit. Our connections looked a little bit better today, but I think we need to work on moving as a unit and really capitalizing on every opportunity we get. We didn't really capitalize offensively on much."
Goals: M—Schettig, Kurlander. Assists: M—Whittle. Saves: H—Kelbaugh 7, Lippe 2; M—Geoghan 2. Half: M—1-0.