Liberty won the field hockey county championship in 2018, something the Lions hadn’t done in 36 years, en route to winning a second state title in three seasons.
So when the Lions embarked on the 2019 season, one of the goals was to put together back-to-back Carroll County Athletic League campaigns. Century posed one final threat, but Liberty got past the rival Knights 2-0 on Monday to capture the county title.
An early goal from Kayleigh Ward and a second-half marker from Caitlynn Szarko provided Liberty (14-0, 6-0 CCAL) its offense, while the defense crafted its 10th shutout of the year.
The Lions extended their winning streak to 23 games, and upon clinching the county crown enjoyed a muted celebration before posing for a team photo wearing their pink jerseys to support breast cancer awareness.
“The expectation is you win, but you still have to work hard. You still have to earn it,” Lions coach Brenda Strohmer said. “And that’s kind of where we’ve been all season. Our goal was undefeated, too ... we’re excited about that too.”
Ward knocked in a bouncing ball coming out of a penalty corner that gave Liberty a 1-0 lead a little more than 2 minutes into the game.
The junior forward scored against Century last year to secure Liberty’s county title, then did it again to knock the Knights out of the regional playoffs a few games later. Ward said putting her team up early Monday took some pressure off the Lions in their biggest game of the season to date.
“You have that first goal, you’re one ahead,” Ward said. “I think we’re pretty good, we take our time ... slow it down a little bit.”
Szarko gave Liberty some insurance with 12 minutes to play when she pushed a shot past Century goalie Claire Hollinger. The Lions capped the county portion of their schedule by outscoring the Carroll foes 15-1.
The Knights (9-4, 5-1) showed more aggression in the second half, and totaled eight penalty-corner tries after the break. Hollinger did her best to keep Century close with 13 saves, but it wasn’t enough.
Knights coach Terry Duryea said her team’s inability to win some of the 50-50 possessions in the midfield proved costly.
“The bottom line is ... we had our chances in front of the goal. The ball crossed in front of the goal three or four times,” said Duryea, whose Knights had a few close calls in each half. "You can’t let that opportunity pass when you’re playing a team like Liberty. You have to finish it.
“They did and we didn’t.”
Century has one more regular-season game, Wednesday at home against Patterson Mill, before venturing into the playoffs. The Knights will try to make a run in Class 2A, while Liberty is back in 1A this season.
The Lions won’t see another opponent for more than two weeks, so it’s a time to get healthy while trying to also stay sharp. Aspirations of claiming a second state title in as many years, and a third in four seasons, is also pushing Liberty along.
“This season has kind of been unreal,” Szarko said. “We play as a family, we win as a family. ... We do it all together.”