Never underestimate the power of Boo Buddies.
The Halloween spirits of Fallston's field hockey team have done some amazing things in the past few years. Soon, they'll be unleashed again -- unleashed but not unmasked.
The secret of the Boo Buddies is their anonymity. Each Cougar will draw the name of a teammate, and the two will remain linked for the rest of the season by notes and other tokens of encouragement.
"We first started it a couple years ago to break down the cliques," Fallston coach Alice Puckett said. "That year there were too many things that were keeping them from blending together. We lost to Aberdeen and John Carroll that year, but then we went on and won the state championship."
"It sounds silly, but it works," said assistant coach Vicki Wright, who coined the term Boo Buddies.
The Boo Buddies draw is just part of Puckett's strategy to keep the Cougars in sync on the field by encouraging friendships that go beyond hockey.
"They get to know each other in a different context," Puckett said. "Maybe the kid who's not the best player, once you get to know her, she might be the nicest or the smartest or she might be good at something else. And they wouldn't know that if we didn't do things together off the field."
The players plan team dinners and the coaches organize weekend trips to college games. For four years, Puckett has taken the Cougars on an overnight trip to the NCAA Division I field hockey championships.
All that togetherness certainly works for Fallston. Over the past six years, the Cougars have won three state championships, four regional titles and four county titles. They have compiled a 72-11-6 record.
This year's team is the youngest Puckett has coached in her 10 years at Fallston. Still, the Cougars, most of whom played summer league hockey, have a 5-1 record.
They've recorded five shutouts and have allowed only two goals. Their only loss came in overtime, 2-1, to Francis Scott Key.
Even in the loss, the Cougars have shown remarkable unity for such a young group.
"We all talk. That's the one thing that holds us together," junior Pam Gauss said. "If we didn't spend so much time together off the field, we wouldn't be getting along as well on the field."
"We're really like a family unit," said Jenny Haslbeck, one of only five seniors.
That the Cougars find so much time to spend together seems surprising considering how active they are in other school groups. Many work in student government and the Student Activities Club. Kara Jackson is senior class president. Amy Bauersfeld is junior class vice president.
They double date and go to movies together, but they also study together. Almost every girl on the team makes the honor roll.
At the same time, this year's team has quite a reputation to try to live up to on the field.
"Fallston has a tradition of winning," said Haslbeck, the only one left from the 1990 state champs. "They always say winning isn't everything, but I think for Fallston winning is everything. You want to keep focused on winning and not settle for anything else."
The veterans, Haslbeck, Gauss, Jackson, Burton, Jenny Clark, Erin vonFelden, Laura Kortisses and Susan Mackley, know what it's like to lose the big game. After three straight state championships, the Cougars lost in the regional final last year.
"It was a real disappointment last year that we didn't win," Gauss said. "We felt sorry for the seniors. I felt like I let them down. In my freshman year, it was such a thrill to watch them win. We try and work every day to get to that level, because we want to bring it back."