The Annapolis field hockey team was steaming toward the playoffs, with a seven-game winning streak in tow and its confidence at peak level. Then, Chesapeake came along Friday night and put any thoughts of the postseason on hold.
Annapolis is assured of a place among the Region III participants -- La Plata will be the top seed with 75 points, while the Panthers and Old Mill battle for the second spot -- but its 2-1 loss to the Cougars was a step in the wrong direction.
"A loss is always a setback," said coach Tammy Janoskie, "but I'm going to try and get some good out of it. Going into the playoffs, this lets the kids know that you've got to put out 100 percent and play together as a team to win games. I'm going to focus on what we didn't do, take the bad and make it good.
"[The Cougars] played better than we did that day as a team. We had our individual skills, but we didn't click together and that was a major problem."
Before Friday, the Panthers' greatest problem seemed to be the constant reminders of last year's stunning 1-0 loss to La Plata in the regional semifinals. They had won eight games and were the top seed.
"I realize that this is our chance again and we can do it this year and not mess up like last year," said leading scorer Shannon Cordell, a senior attacker. "We're a different team this year."
The Panthers (8-2-1) started slowly this fall, losing to Severna Park, 2-1, and playing to a scoreless tie with Arundel. Both opponents had made the playoffs last year, so they weren't being pushed around by lightweights. But they weren't scoring any knockouts, either.
"We really gave Severna Park a good run for its money," Janoskie said. "It was a great game, an evenly played game. But I wasn't pleased with the Arundel game. We knew we could have done better. It really made us work that much harder."
Annapolis squeezed out 1-0 wins over Meade and St. Mary's and a 2-1 victory over Queen Anne's. The only "breathers" were 3-0 wins over South River and Broadneck.
At this point, Annapolis wasn't bullying anyone, but it was winning and at a school-record pace.
"We have a good handful of seniors this year who are doing a very, very nice job," Janoskie said, alluding to veterans like Cordell, attackers Heather Knutson and Nicole DesChamps, defender Lauren Feinstein and keeper Kristen Butler. "They're self-motivated, which helps out a lot.
"This is the first group of seniors that I've had for a full four years. That extra year makes a big difference in skill level and maturity level."
Before the season began, Janoskie spoke of having more depth on this team than in her previous five seasons at the school. "This is the first year that I feel like I have two players per position," she said.
Opponents must feel like Annapolis has twice as many players on defense. The Panthers had given up just four goals before Friday.
"It's the teamwork," said Feinstein, a former link who was moved to defense. "Everybody is so close. We've been playing together for four years now. [Sweeper] Karen Linynski yells at me, and it's just normal. And vice versa."
Janoskie said that her team isn't panicked over the loss to Chesapeake, or dwelling on last year's abrupt ending to a promising season.
"I don't think they're too concerned with the past," she said. "The handful of seniors want to finish out strong. They'll do everything they can do to reach their goal. They want to get into the states."