Carroll County is no stranger to field hockey success, with nine combined state championships over the past eight seasons. And with the end of another year less than one week away, two teams are poised to add more titles to the list.
Westminster gets Carroll’s first crack at a 2019 state finalist when the Owls (12-5) face Huntingtown (15-0) in a Class 3A semifinal Wednesday night at 7:30 at Paint Branch High School. Liberty (16-0) is up next, with the Lions taking on Patuxent (12-3) on Thursday night at 7:30 in a 1A state semifinal at Paint Branch.
The Lions won the 2A state title last season, and claimed a 1A crown in 2016. Westminster hasn’t won a state championship since 2014, but the Owls earned three of their nine titles over a five-season stretch (2010-14). Expectations are always high across the county, with both Liberty and Westminster adopting a “States or Bust” attitude.
Brenda Strohmer is in her eighth year as Lions coach, and when she arrived the goal was to turn around a program that wallowed at the bottom of the county standings. This year marks Liberty’s fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament.
“We were happy to score a goal,” Strohmer said about those early seasons. “When I first started coaching ... we won two games our first year. Just to score a goal was huge. [Now] we’ve got six [players] that have been in [four straight state playoffs]. It is a good feeling. It’s exciting.
"I like that we set goals for ourselves and we strive to meet them. States is everyone’s goal.”
Caroline Evans, a senior forward, leads Liberty in scoring with 35 points (13 goals, nine assists), and junior Kayleigh Ward is next with 30 (13, four). Sophomore Caitlynn Szarko (21 points) and senior Meghan Huey (18) chip in too, among others. The Lions have 11 shutouts on defense as well, with senior Mikayla Bull (75 saves) in goal.
Strohmer said winning created buzz around the program. More players took up club field hockey and competed year-round. The area rec programs helped bolster the high school numbers. Soon the Lions weren’t just taking anyone cut from other sports programs at the school, they were contending with the rest of Carroll.
“The fact that the mentality has changed, and these girls have changed it,” Strohmer said about her veterans, nine seniors in all. “The group before these seniors, and these seniors, is what changed the mentality and the expectation for Liberty field hockey. If you’re coming out for Liberty field hockey, you’re coming out to win that state championship. You’re not coming out just to play field hockey."
The Lions face a Pautxent team that survived its state quarterfinal last Saturday against Francis Scott Key, winning 1-0 in double overtime. The Panthers won a state title in 2017 and are making their fifth state semifinal appearance in a row.
Liberty shared a practice field with Westminster on Tuesday at Western Regional Park so each county team could prepare for its state semifinal matchup. Owls coach Laurie Naill said being able to fine-tune some things against an opponent, albeit in friendly fashion, should serve her team well.
Defense has carried Westminster throughout the year, but its offense seems to be coming around at the right time. Junior forward Kirby Henneman has 11 goals, as does senior forward Audrey Detrow. Jess Kent, a freshman, has eight goals and eight assists, while fellow freshman Miranda Moshang has seven assists.
“I think they’re all finally working together,” Naill said. “That Mount Hebron game [a 2-0 win in the regional final Oct. 30] was the best game that we’ve played so far. And if they can just hone in on that, that would be amazing.”
Huntingtown got past C. Milton Wright 1-0 in its state quarterfinal and is back in the state final four for the first time since 2015.
Westminster captured its 28th regional title last week, second most in Maryland public-school history. Five years have passed since the Owls’ last state championship, something of which Naill said her players are well aware. Team goals haven’t changed much since Naill played field hockey at Westminster (Class of 1993).
“The expectation is up here from the get-go,” Naill said, raising her hand above her head. “We actually just talked about that the other day in practice, the fact that the last time we won states was 2014. So it’s been a while. I think they understand that and they realize that."