ELDERSBURG — Liberty’s field hockey team posed for pictures in front of friends and family at the conclusion of Wednesday’s Class 2A West Region final against Oakdale.
Included in the team’s group photo was a new, yet familiar, piece of hardware — the regional championship plaque.
The Lions cruised past Oakdale 6-0 to capture their third straight region crown, and will face Glenelg in a 2A state semifinal next Wednesday at Paint Branch High School.
The county champion Lions have won seven straight games and haven’t lost since Oct. 2. They’ve outscored each of their opponents 19-3 during that stretch.
“I think this obviously means that the program is building and it has built a foundation so we can keep building,” said senior midfielder Heidi Ellis. “My freshman year, we didn’t win anything. We didn’t win counties, we didn’t win regionals, we lost in the first round of playoffs.
“I think that goes to show that our team has really changed over the years and we continue to build and we want to keep making the program better.”
Ellis and freshman Haley Batten both scored and notched an assist for the Lions (15-2). Kayleigh Ward, a forward, scored twice and added an assist as well. Ward said the Lions have players capable of filling the holes left behind by those who have graduated or will graduate, and everyone adapts naturally.
It’s been a contributing factor to the Lions’ success in recent years.
Ward score twice and Ellis added a third in less than five minutes to give Liberty a 3-0 lead in the first half. Caroline Evans pushed the ball through to Ward, who finished the shot with 10:23 left to spark the Lions’ run.
Liberty made it 5-0 with two more goals in less than 10 minutes to start the second half, and the Bears continued to struggle against the home team’s skill. The Lions took advantage of fouls to garner 11 penalty corners in the contest as well.
“It’s the fact that they adjust and it’s their leadership, we’ve got girls stepping up left and right,” Lions coach Brenda Strohmer said. “It’s not a one-person team, it’s a 24-person team and that’s what excites me the most. We subbed a lot and we didn’t skip a beat, we did not skip a beat so that’s the important part with this program and these girls.”
Ward added that every player on the Lions’ roster is a ”valuable player” and each girl contributes to the team’s success. The Lions won their third state title in 2016 — the program’s first in 34 years — but lost to Hereford in the 2A state semifinals last year.
Liberty’s opponent Wednesday had some county ties.
Oakdale coach Alli Dudley and assistant coach Kate Dudley are both Francis Scott Key graduates — Alli Dudley is a former Times two-time first team all-countian. The Bears outscored Damascus and Linganore, their previous playoff opponents, 8-0 going into the regional final.
“We executed the way we needed to enough to win,” Ellis said. “I do think there’s always room for improvement, especially in the playoffs. You have to fix every little thing and every play counts.”
Goals: L-Kayleigh Ward 2, Heidi Ellis, Caroline Evans, Haley Batten, Gabby Kostadinov.
Assists: L-Evans, Ward, Caitlynn Szarko, Batten, Ellis.
Saves: O-3 (Lilly Murphy); L-1 (Grace Fenner).
Halftime: Liberty, 3-0.