The past two years, Westminster High School field hockey team ended the season the same way — with a loss in the Class 3A state championship game.
Westminster's players may still feel some of the sting from those defeats and that's what drives the Owls. They badly want to finish the 2017 season strong and with a title.
And third-year coach Katie McDonald believes her squad, which returns seven starters, has a legitimate shot to win it all.
Her feeling can be summed up in one word: experience.
"Literally, all the girls who are seniors have been to states three times," said McDonald, who served as a Westminster assistant coach when the Owls won their program's ninth state title in 2014. "That's really cool, and they just expect to be there at the end of the season."
McDonald has her concerns about her team, but her forward line is not one of them.
The Owls brought back two three-year starters, junior forwards Veronica Maring and Haleigh Moore, to go along with senior forward Madi Macera, another returning starter. Moore earned Times first-team all-county honors last year after finishing tied for the county lead in points with 38 (12 goals, 14 assists).
She's off to a great start this fall — Moore totaled a goal and five assists in a 10-3 thrashing of John Carroll on Sept. 2. Three days later, Moore had three goals in the first half against Middletown before the game was suspended because of lightning.
"She is very, very skilled," McDonald. "She has great stick skills. She very good at carrying the ball down the field and crossing the ball. She knows what to do at the right time. She is able to get around the goalie or pass to her teammate."
Moore doesn't have to carry Westminster's offense by herself.
Macera had four goals against John Carroll, and Maring had three. Both players are coming off solid seasons — Maring notched six goals and six assists and was a second-team all-county pick; Macera totaled three goals and four assists.
The reigning county champion Owls are also talented at midfield.
Senior Chloe Sankovich has started for three seasons and Rachel Rogalski is a two-year starter. McDonald had more questions about her defense since junior Anna Ruby is the lone returning starter on the back line.
The Owls graduated standout defenders Delaney McKelvie, Sydney McDonald, and Lauren Rogalski. Westminster has filled the holes with senior Kasey Schuchardt, junior Arianna Babylon, and freshman Sydney Schinkai.
"After three games, they really have come together," McDonald said.
The defense is protecting junior goalie Lauren Jenne, who is backed up by Abbi Love and Payton Steele.
“She worked a lot in the offseason,” McDonald said of Jenne, who made 19 saves in Westminster’s game last Saturday against South River (a 6-1 loss). “She is more confident in herself and with communication. She used to not talk much. Now, she tells the defenders who they have to mark up.”
McDonald hopes the positives she's seen in three games continue when the Owls host Patterson Mill on Sept. 12.
"I have been very happy with our team chemistry," the coach said. "I was nervous about losing some of our key players. But our seniors have all been leaders and that has helped to bring everybody together."