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Field Hockey: Defense leads Owls past Liberty
Westminster's Kerri Virtz had 12 saves against Liberty. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When his team struggled to start the season a year ago, Aaron Rodgers' message for everyone was to relax.

Not sure if anyone on Westminster's field hockey team follows the Packers, who reached the NFC championship game in 2014, but their motto this fall has been somewhat similar. After dropping their first two games of the season, and being under .500 in late September, the Owls seem to have restored themselves as a county title contender.

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At least after Thursday's 2-0 win over Liberty, which thrust Westminster into first place in the Hersh Division.

"It's definitely through the chemistry," said senior goalie Kerri Virtz. "We're definitely building and we're a really young team this year."

Virtz said the team's strength, particularly of late, is defense. The unit was on point against the Lions, who piled up 15 penalty corners to no avail. Virtz stood tall in the cage with 12 saves, and she got defensive help from juniors Ali Brown and Lauren Rogalski, and seniors Kathleen Kohr, Mia Moshang, and Jess Schuchardt.

And those aren't the only ones pitching in to give Virtz a hand while the offense, led by underclassmen Veronica Maring, Haleigh Moore, and Madi Macera.

"In the beginning of the season there were a lot of changes," Owls first-year coach Katie Corson said. "There was a new coach, I actually did a new lineup, I brought up younger players. So I think it was just all these factors that threw everybody [off]."

Westminster (6-4) started with losses to South River and Bryn Mawr, both quality foes, and after evening its record lost to Dulaney and county rival North Carroll, 2-0, on Sept. 24.

The reigning Class 3A state champion Owls were 3-4, but they've won three in a row and are 4-1 against Carroll teams.

Maring had a goal and an assist in Thursday's win over Liberty (8-4, 4-2), scoring four minutes into the game and giving her team a much–needed boost.

"It gets us so excited, because then you're like, all right, you have a little bit of a cushion where you're going to go back to 0-0 if they score," Virtz said. "But you know that you're up and you have the advantage."

Senior Emily Dudley gave Westminster an insurance goal early in the second half, more than enough for the Virtz and the Owls defense to play with.

Lions coach Brenda Strohmer implored her players to be more aggressive in winning loose balls around the midfield, and when they attacked Westminster's defense they racked up scoring chances. In Liberty's 1-0 loss to Manchester Valley on Monday, Strohmer lamented the Lions' inability to string together two quality halves. That wasn't the issue Thursday, she said.

"We just couldn't capitalize," Strohmer said. "We can't finish. I mean, I think we played a full 60 minutes. We're going to work on it. We know what we need to work on; our drives don't go far, and we don't finish. Those are our two biggest issues, and that's what we'll keep working on."

Westminster beat Man Valley on Tuesday and takes a three-game win streak into Friday's game against Century. That's another Hersh matchup, so staying atop the division standings is key if the Owls want to play the Cowan winner for the county title in a few weeks.

"Now that they're used to it and they know what I expect, and the know the positioning, I feel like they've really come together," Corson said. "We're a young team, so that makes me really excited for the future."

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Goals: W-Veronica Maring, Emily Dudley.

Assists: W-Maring, Haleigh Moore.

Saves: L-6 (Grace Fenner); W-12 (Kerri Virtz).

Halftime: Westminster, 1-0.

JV result: Westminster, 5-0 (Kasey Schuchardt 2 goals, 1 assist).

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