Defense doesn’t always get the recognition in games where whoever puts in more goals wins.
Don’t tell it to Liberty’s field hockey team, which navigated its way through the Class 2A playoffs by relying on its back row and taking advantage of the scoring chances when they came.
Such was the case in Saturday’s 2A state final against Hereford, where the Lions withstood their share of charges from the Bulls but captured the title with a 1-0 victory at Washington College.
Liberty (17-2) scored the game’s lone goal with 12:56 remaining, when sophomore Kayleigh Ward got credit for deflecting a long hit from fellow sophomore Maggie Heffler.
The Lions made it stand with a stalwart performance from senior Lindsay Kovack, who moved to defense this fall, junior Christine Goetz, one of the team’s captains, and freshman Jolie Feltz along the back line.
And don’t forget senior goalie Grace Fenner, who made 10 saves and had a few big ones down the stretch to preserve the lead.
“Defense kept us in there, Gracie kept us in there,” said Lions coach Brenda Strohmer, whose team captured its second state title in three seasons.
“The attitudes, the heart … these girls played with so much heart.”
When Liberty won a 1A state crown in 2016, it ended a 34-year drought for the program. The following season, the Lions bowed out in the 2A semifinals.
This time, they made their third straight state tournament appearance count.
“We just had to keep our feet moving and keep up the momentum,” Goetz said. “Keep confident and get the ball out.”
Liberty knocked out Glenelg, the reigning state champs, in the semifinals Wednesday. So taking down Hereford (12-7) didn’t feel like the biggest challenge of the season, junior Meghan Huey said, despite the stage.
“We knew it was kind of intimidating going into it, but we knew we had nothing to lose,” Huey said. “We had to come out and put it all on the field.”
Hereford finished with 11 penalty-corner attempts to Liberty’s one, and that one came late in the first half. The Bulls, led by junior midfielder Anna Brandt, did their best to crack Liberty’s defense and penetrate the circle.
Fenner kicked away several chances, and when the ball didn’t get to her a Lions defender did her best to get a stick down.
Ward’s goal gave Liberty momentum, but Fenner said she knew it wasn’t a done deal just yet.
“Hereford is a really good team, and props to them,” Fenner said. “It was really just about playing our own game and shutting them out. Just working together as a team.”
The Bulls argued to no avail that Liberty’s goal shouldn’t have counted because it wasn’t touched inside the circle, but they still had chances in the final 10 minutes to knock in the equalizer.
That goal never came, and the Lions were jubilant in capping the season with another championship.
“That was the best possible outcome for our senior year,” said Heidi Ellis, one of Liberty’s five seniors. “After that, the people coming in as freshmen next year will be excited to join the program. Because, now we’re two-time state champs.”
Goals: L-Kayleigh Ward.
Assists: L-Maggie Heffler.
Saves: L-10 (Grace Fenner); H-3 (Sydney Lippe).
Halftime: Tied, 0-0.