Field Hockey: Liberty wins first state championship since 1982

The Lions claimed the 1A state crown, their first title in 34 years. (Pat Stoetzer/Carroll County Times)

CHESTERTOWN — Brenda Strohmer crouched alongside her players and cracked a big smile while photographers snapped away.

She held her pose for about a minute, then turned to leave the group before being called back with shouts from the bleachers.


Strohmer resumed her stance, and flashed her perma-grin.

"I feel like a movie star!" Liberty's coach shouted.


Call it the spoils of winning a state championship — the Lions' first in more than three decades.

Liberty claimed the Class 1A title Saturday by beating Queen Anne's 2-0 at Washington College, the program's first crown since 1982.

The Lions (16-2) ended the fall on an eight-game winning streak and notched their eighth shutout to cap things. An early goal from junior Brooke Heffler and an insurance marker from senior Hannah Miller in the second lifted Liberty to the title, but its defense was needed as well.

Sophomore goalie Grace Fenner made 10 saves against a Queen Anne's attack that applied pressure for most of the final 40 minutes. Strohmer praised juniors Erin Risch and Fallon Spittel, and freshman Christine Goetz, for giving Fenner a sturdy back row of support.


And the Lions gave it right back to Fenner.

"We couldn't have won without her," said senior midfielder Abbie Busch, clutching the state trophy. "That's not a statement, that's a fact."

Added senior forward Ashley Caldwell: "Oh my goodness, Grace was unbelievable today."

Fenner stood tall, and Liberty's offense struck in a hurry.

The game was less than 2 minutes old when Caldwell created space down the far sideline and waited for her teammates to crash the circle. She darted a pass along the goal line, where Heffler was waiting on the far post for a tap-in.

The goal seemed easy for Liberty, but the rest of the half was quite the opposite.

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Queen Anne's (14-2-1) asserted itself in the latter part of the half with some offensive pressure, and finished the first 30 minutes with five penalty-corner tries. The Lions had a great chance with 4:45 to play when Gabrielle Corder weaved through Liberty's back row into the top of the circle and got the ball to Sara Walford, QA's leading scorer. Walford sent one toward the cage but the ball went wide as Liberty goalie Grace Fenner came out for a save attempt.

Caldwell drew two cards from the officials in the second half, meaning Liberty was without one of its top offense weapons for 4 minutes. But the Lions didn't bend despite Queen Anne's final flurry to score.

Seconds ticked away, and at the final buzzer Liberty rejoiced.

"The best feeling ever," Miller said. "The best feeling to end my senior year with a state championship, especially with the best team ever. ... I'm just so happy."

Added Caldwell: "It just feels unbelievable. I don't think any team deserves it more than we do. We've worked so hard this year, and it's just amazing."

Liberty is unbeaten in state finals (3-0) but hadn't been back to the title game since that 1982 season, when it won the second in as many years. None of the Lions were alive for that one, but they understood the significance of getting their program back to prominence.

When Strohmer took over six years ago, Liberty went winless. But a steady progression followed, and Strohmer said it was the Lions' mission to not only win again but return to the state tournament.

And win.

"It used to be, 'You can't lose to Liberty.' Now it's, 'We want to beat Liberty,'" Strohmer said. "This was our ultimate goal ... their whole saying since Day 1 was 'Hashtag Road to States.' And it's not [just] we want to get here, it's that road to get here. And that's just what they've been focusing on the whole time."

Goals: L-Brooke Heffler, Hannah Miller.

Assists: L-Ashley Caldwell, Heffler.

Saves: QA-4 (Emily Lanehart); L-10 (Grace Fenner).

Halftime: Liberty, 1-0.




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