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Reloading Glenelg field hockey aiming to hold off hungry group of Howard County programs

The Howard County field hockey 2019 regular season officially begins on Sept. 6.
The Howard County field hockey 2019 regular season officially begins on Sept. 6. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

On the very first day of tryouts this fall, before starting any drills or picking up a stick, Glenelg head coach Nikki Trunzo addressed this year’s group of Gladiator field hockey players with a familiar heartfelt but stern message.

The faces may change, but the mission does not.

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“Before we even did our first run, we talked about how the goal is a state championship. That’s what its always been since I’ve been coaching here and that’s what it will always be,” Trunzo said. “Some years you have more returning players than other years, sometimes — like this year — you lose a player you expected to have back. This group, though, is made for pressure and we talk a lot about having that ‘next-man up’ attitude.

“We set that bar high and challenge ourselves to get over it.”

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The Gladiators cleared that state championship-bar as recently as 2017, claiming the title that season for the fourth time in program history. Last fall, the team fell short of the ultimate prize with a 2-1 loss to Liberty in the 2A state semifinals.

Glenelg field hockey senior Ashley O'Byrne talks about the upcoming season as the Gladiators look to defend their county championship from last fall.

Ten seniors graduated from last year’s squad and the team also lost rising senior leader Kathryn Hoffman to a torn ACL over the summer. Those setbacks, however, have kept this current group of players both motivated and focused.

“This season, especially because we came up short last year, we are working so hard,” senior captain Ashley O’Byrne said. “It started with training in the beginning and now that we are in preseason we are going 110 percent all the time to be the best we can be.”

Losing a three-time All-County midfielder like Hoffman is undoubtedly a significant blow, but the concept of reloading instead of rebuilding is nothing new for Glenelg. The program has earned at least a share of 10 of the last 11 county championships.

The key is leadership. And that’s one area the Gladiators are not lacking.

“We are young, but we have a core group of seniors returning to varsity that all play in crucial areas of the field and are very vocal,” Trunzo said.

Backing up last year’s county title will be no easy task. There are talented groups of challengers headlined by 2018 runner-up Marriotts Ridge.

The Mustangs bring back seven starters from a team that went 6-1 in league play, including All-County performers and captains Eloise Clevenger, Emma Gladstein and Gracie Kennedy.

“These three girls have been starters for three years now and have shown their leadership through their dedication to being strong athletes and their passion for the team,” Marriotts Ridge coach Staci Gado said.

Marriotts Ridge seniors Gracie Kennedy, Elle Clevenger and Emma Gladstein talk Mustangs field hockey during a preseason practice.

Marriotts Ridge, which shared the 2017 county crown with River Hill, was swept by Glenelg last fall, getting shutout during both the regular season and in the playoffs. Big picture, however, Gado says the local rivalry is something that has pushed both teams to constantly improve.

“It’s high school athletics, so having that rival team there is what makes for exciting competition and provides something to constantly step up to,” she said. “The biggest thing for us, though, is not letting there be that mental block where the girls come into every season expecting Glenelg to be the team to beat. I’m really trying to instill that confidence and belief that they are stronger than they think they are.”

Like Glenelg, Mt. Hebron is using a heartbreaking defeat in last year’s playoffs as motivation. The Vikings finished third in the county standings a season ago with a 5-2 record and fell one goal short against Chesapeake in the 3A East region title game.

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Mt. Hebron senior midfielder Esha Shah talks Vikings field hockey after a preseason practice.

Mt. Hebron returns seven starters from that team, including first-team All-County midfielders Haley Kampert and Esha Shah.

“I think you are always hungry coming into the season but, because it was such a disappointing loss in the region final last year, I think this year’s team is even more hungry than usual,” Mt. Hebron coach Jeannette Ireland said. “We were ahead for three quarters of the game and really just played two corners poorly and that cost us.”

There are star players returning for other county squads as well, including first-team All-County performers Quinn Kindbom at River Hill and Lindsey Cowan at Howard.

Kindbom, who has committed to play at Indiana University, has been a starter for the Hawks since she was a freshman. She was a key piece on the county championship-team in 2017.

Cowan, meanwhile, is a versatile senior that served as both the defensive leader for the Lions and also the team’s second-leading goal scorer (seven) last fall. Overall, Howard has seven returning starters, including Cowan and second-team All-County selection Katie Sloan, from a squad that had a 7-4 record during the 2018 county season. The team also adds transfer Sam Ponsford, who was a second-team midfielder at Long Reach as a junior.

Looking even deeper, second-team All-County selections return for five other Howard County programs. Goalie Kerri Silverstein at Atholton, midfielder Lily Sullivan at Centennial, along with forwards Sarah Nam at Reservoir and Zoe Reading at Wilde Lake are all back and expected to serve as leaders for their respective squads.

Among the biggest changes coming into the season is a shift by the MPSSAA to a new playoff format. Each region is still separated into two sections, but under the new format the winner of each section — now called “Region I” and “Region II” — advances to the state quarterfinals, which will be re-seeded 1-8 based on regular season win percentage.

The old format pitted section champions from the same region against one another in a region championship to advance to the state semifinal round. The potential is now there for two teams in the county to play in a state final.

With not every school around the state fielding a field hockey team, some of the sections contain only three teams. Region I of 3A East, for example, only has Centennial, Mt. Hebron and Westminster — one of those squads will get a bye through to the region final.

Ireland said there are numerous ways to look at the changes, but at the end of the day it’s still a tough road to winning a state championship regardless of where you start.

“For us, we’re in a very tough region — even if it’s only three teams. And when you consider that we play an unbelievably tough regular-season schedule, securing that top-seed and home field advantage is going to be very difficult,” Ireland said. “But I also don’t know if it’s advantageous to get all those byes and sit around for over a week waiting for that first playoff game. It’s really based on your perspective.

“At the end of the day, you still have to beat those other top teams … the only thing that changes is whether you have to play them sooner or play them later.”

In the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, Glenelg Country will once again compete in the B Conference after finishing with a 1-14 overall record a season ago.

With the first day of the regular season slated for Sept. 6, here’s a snapshot look at each of the local programs:

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Atholton

Coach: Martie Dyer

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2018 record: 3-4 county, 4-10 overall

Top players: Seniors Natalie Lewis (F), Kerri Silverstein (G) and Alli Welch (MF); junior Summer Hughes (D).

Quotable: “We have a very young team this year with three sophomores and two freshmen looking to get a lot of playing time. But they are learning quickly. Our strength is our passing and the leadership of our seniors.” — coach Martie Dyer.

Centennial

Coach: Lizz Engle

2018 record: 5-6, 6-10

Top players: Senior Casey Stratton (G); juniors Jamie Cole (MF), Jane Hudson (D) and Lily Sillivan (MF).

Quotable: “We have eight returning starters, as well as some strong, talented young players who were brought up in the postseason last year. We have many talented individual players, so if we can utilize all of their strengths and put it together fluidly, we will be successful. Our team is constantly evolving and we’re looking to utilize everyone’s strengths in the way that is best for the team.” — coach Lizz Engle.

Glenelg

Coach: Nikki Trunzo

2018 record: 7-0, 12-2-1

Top players: Seniors Grace Meissner (D) and Ashley O’Byrne (MF); juniors Caitlyn Baehr (MF), Rachel Barker (G), Chloe Birckhead (MF) and Sarah Kang (MF); freshman Hala Silverstein (G).

Quotable: “We lost 10 seniors and Kathryn [Hoffman], who’s a senior, to an ACL injury, so we are very young team this year. We are looking for a lot of our younger players to step up and really work hard in practice. The good news is that our midfield is strong, with all returners from last year’s team and they are all wonderful leaders.” — coach Nikki Trunzo.

Hammond

Coach: Courtney Abell

2018 record: 1-5, 3-10

Top players: Senior Alexis Kujawa; juniors Francesca Brou, Lizzy Hughes (MF/F) and Rachel Osei-Nsafoah (MF/D); sophomore Marlee Hunter (F/MF); freshman Lilly DeBlassio (G).

Quotable: “Our 21 returners to the program bring a set of knowledge that our incoming ninth graders and new players will be able to learn from by example. It’s a wonderful group of well-rounded student athletes that demonstrate sportsmanship on and off the field. We are working hard to reach our program goals for the season and games will be the largest area where we are able to teach and educate the players.” — coach Courtney Abell.

Howard

Coach: Courtney Sprissler

2018 record: 7-4, 10-6

Top players: Seniors Lindsey Cowan (D), Shea O’Connor (MF) and Katie Sloan (MF).

Quotable: “The talent and experience is a coach’s dream this year. We have seven returning starters, but each girl on the team is capable of being a starter. This team’s level of skill makes it super easy for them to easily adjust to their new team this year and the girls are already moving as a whole. We are playing with a new lineup this year to really focus on the strength we have in the middle of the field.” — coach Courtney Sprissler.

Long Reach

Coach: Melissa Boardman

2018 record: 2-4, 4-7

Top players: Seniors Isabella Facey (MF) and Leah McClelland (MF); junior Lily Deitch.

Quotable: “Experience is going to be key with this program after losing nine seniors and having to combine our JV and varsity teams this year. The girls, though, are a family. All of them want to improve and do their best for each other. There is great spirit, positive energy and amazing encouragement between the team. Most of the returning varsity players are in the midfield and on defense, so the most experience is on the back end of the field.” — coach Melissa Boardman.

Marriotts Ridge

Coach: Stacie Gado

2018 record: 6-1, 9-7

Top players: Seniors Elle Clevenger (F), Emma Gladstein (F/MF), Gracie Kennedy (F/MF), Sidney Parkent (D) and Grace Tolle (G); juniors Leah Bakhtiar (MF/F), Julie Lawler (MF/F) and Kayleigh Savage.

Quotable: “The experience is there. The senior class is a lot of strong athletes with great leadership personalities, while our junior class is filled with club players that are capable of playing in college. I feel like we are a very well-round team. We also have a super strong incoming freshman class this year which is going to make our JV program super solid. I have smaller numbers on the varsity roster, but definitely feel that if we are in need of pulling anyone up at the end of the regular season or for playoffs we have plenty of capable candidates.” — coach Stacie Gado.

Mt. Hebron

Coach: Jeannette Ireland

2018 record: 5-2, 10-7

Top players: Senior Esha Shah (MF); juniors Haley Kampert (MF), Michelle Pak (F) and Ella Ruiz (D).

Quotable: “When we hosted our play-day scrimmage, I was pleased with the pace with which we played and the attempt to execute the things that we’ve been working on. I really feel like we are a work in progress and we are going to keep improving with repetition. But more than anything I was excited about how hard they played. We graduated our entire backline, so we really have to shore up on our defense. Overall, though, we have a lot of experience returning and I think that’s the biggest positive going into the season.” — coach Jeannette Ireland.

Oakland Mills

Coach: Kristen Vance

2018 record: 0-7, 3-11

Top players: Seniors Megan Gunther (MF), Cori Lawson (D) and Kenzie Minarcin (F).

Quotable: “We are hoping to have a JV team for the first time in seven years and the foundations that team will make will be integral to our future. As for varsity, we had a lot of time to work on defense last year and, even though our record may not reflect it, we are making progress in that specific area.” — coach Kristen Vance.

Reservoir

Coach: Megan Maloney

2018 record: 4-7, 4-9

Top players: Senior Sarah Nam (F); juniors Lily Baumann (F), Riley Macon (MF) and Caitlin Toler (MF/D); sophomore Kiersten Jewell (D); freshman Sarah Weitzman (MF).

Quotable: “I do have a lot of upperclassmen this season, but I also have a few talented younger players as well that will help with our success this season. The team has great chemistry on and off the field, which I am hoping will help us be successful this season. It’s not 11 girls on the field, it’s one team. Offense is going to be one of the strength of the team. Most the players are naturally fast and will help bring the ball down the field quickly. Also the aggressiveness my players have to want to score will help the offense a lot this season.” — coach Megan Maloney.

River Hill

Coach: Shelly Chamness

2018 record: 3-4, 7-9

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Top players: Seniors Ashlee Buscher (F) and Quinn Kindbom (MF); junior Lindsey Miller (F); freshmen Puja Nanjappa (MF/D) and Maddy Vasilios (MF).

Quotable: “The biggest determinant of our success will be how well our returners gel with our new players, although they are looking great so far. Our offense generated by both midfield and attack will be our strength this year because it looks like we have multiple finishers that work well together.” — coach Shelly Chamness.

Wilde Lake

Coach: Ginger Kincaid

2018 record: 4-3, 7-8

Top players: Seniors Aliyah Hodges (MF), Erin Murphy (D), Zoe Reading (F) and Melody Simmons (MF); junior Logan Bitner-Parish (G); sophomore Bri Floyd (MF).

Quotable: “I have seven seniors on my team, with five of them returning starters. I will build my team around them. Zoe, Aliyah and Melody have been on the varsity since I started at Wilde Lake. Nancy [Stefan], the JV coach, and I made it through the crazy preseason and we are excited to begin the school year and move into our season.” — coach Ginger Kincaid.

Glenelg Country

Coach: Anne Smith

2018 record: 1-11 IAAM B, 1-14

Top players: Seniors Kayla Rich (F), Sam Wollman (F) and Maddy Sesay (F); juniors Grace Dickey (D), Madisyn Howard (MF) and Krissy Verma (G); freshman Ashley Dyer (MF/F).

Quotable: “We have eight returning starters and possibly five freshmen as our team’s core make up. Obviously, this will provide challenges to both the experienced players and the new players. Fortunately, this odd dynamic should work for us, as our team leaders are hands-on and involved with working with the new players. Our team values this year are camaraderie, commitment and courage.” — coach Anne Smith.

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