It didn’t take long for Liberty High School’s field hockey players and coach to realize their potential for success last season.
The Lions started in early September with a two-game tournament at Marriotts Ridge. Liberty, the reigning Class 2A state champion, moved back down to 1A in 2019. Facing Dulaney and the host Mustangs proved an early challenge, and coach Brenda Strohmer said it was the team’s turning point.
Liberty beat Marriotts Ridge and Dulaney by identical 1-0 scores. For a team that graduated the Times Player of the Year (goalie Grace Fenner) but was still considered a title contender, Strohmer saw how the Lions could jell almost from the start.
Liberty followed those wins with 16 in a row, and capped the season by beating Washington High School to win the 1A state championship ― a third title in four seasons for Strohmer, who earned Times Coach of the Year honors for the 2019-20 sports year.
“I know how hard Brenda works to make herself a better coach, and I think the relationship she has with her athletes ... she has a good rapport with her athletes,” said Ed DeVincent, Liberty’s athletic director. “They bought into what Brenda is doing. And I think in return that has led to a lot of success on the field.”
The Lions, who are on a 27-game winning streak, finished 18-0 and dotted their resume with impressive victories.
Marriotts Ridge went on to win the 2A state crown. Dulaney reached the 4A state final. Liberty also defeated Westminster, the 3A champs, during the regular season en route to a Carroll County Athletic League title. And the Lions took down McDonogh midway through the regular season ― the Eagles, a private school foe, played in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland’s A Conference semifinals last season.
If the early-season tournament victories helped bolster confidence, Strohmer said “the McDonogh game sealed it.”
“It was one of those [games] where, ‘All right guys. You’ve worked this hard, this long. Don’t lose it now,‘” Strohmer said. “And they were all nervous, they knew it was going to be tough.”
Nerves didn’t keep Liberty from maintaining its field hockey dominance, but the Lions were anything but when Strohmer first took over as coach in 2011. They won six games combined in her first two seasons and didn’t post a winning record until 2015.
Then things took off.
“We work together, we win together, we lose together,” said Strohmer, who is 75-13 over the last five seasons. “And that starts with the coaches. We coach together.”
With help from assistants Brad Widner, Kayla Kayla Holston, and Karen Spittel, Strohmer has as many as eight eyes on the field during a game or practice. Liberty’s defense, led by standout Christine Goetz in the midfield, allowed six goals all season.
The offense had two of Carroll’s top three scorers in Kayleigh Ward (16 goals, 36 points) and Caroline Evans (13, 35). Caitlynn Szarko led the county with 11 assists; Meghan Huey (five goals, nine assists) became Strohmer’s all-around leader and earned Times Player of the Year honors.
“That core bunch, they’ve worked so hard together,” Strohmer said. “They’re like a well-oiled machine.”
Liberty outscored its four postseason opponents by a combined 16-2 ― the Lions clipped rival South Carroll 1-0 in overtime in their playoff opener ― and beat Washington 2-1 on Nov. 9, 2019 at Washington College to stamp its fall season.
“There were some tough games along the road. This county is very strong in field hockey,” DeVincent said. “For Brenda and the kids, and the team, to be able to be as successful as they were this year, was an incredible accomplishment.”
Strohmer and the Lions couldn’t have known how strange the 2019-20 sports season would become. The spring never got started because of the coronavirus pandemic, denying many athletes a chance to finish their high school careers. Strohmer said she had several field hockey players itching to help Liberty’s girls lacrosse team on a state championship chase.
Instead, they’ll be hoping for a chance to play in 2020 despite plenty of uncertainty about the near future. But Strohmer and the Lions have a rather nice memory to enjoy, one that ended with an unbeaten season and another title.
“Everybody wants that goal, but that team has been solid,” Strohmer said. “They were solid and they had great leaders, great players. From coaches all the way down to the few ... freshmen that we brought up, it’s something they truly wanted. So they just went for it.”
COACHES OF THE YEAR
Boys Cross Country: Dan Jones and Pete Lester, Liberty
Girls Cross Country: Dan Jones and Pete Lester, Liberty
Field Hockey: Brenda Strohmer, Liberty
Football: Chris Bassler, Westminster
Golf: Kirk Kucharski, Winters Mill
Boys Soccer: Trey Howes, Century
Girls Soccer: Sara Figuly, Century
Volleyball: Bryan Trumbo, Century
Boys Basketball: George Wunder, Century
Girls Basketball: Dave Urban, Westminster
Boys Indoor Track: Dyron Johnson, Century
Girls Indoor Track: Joe Murray, South Carroll
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