Baker, Hooper show it's best to leave coaching to wise Owls


This was supposed to be the season in Carroll County when the pupils finally would show the teachers a few things about winning field hockey games.

Mindi Wagner had a wealth of young talent returning to Francis Scott Key, Stacy Stem was expected to build another strong team around Tracie DiDio at South Carroll and Courtney Vaughn had a solid team at Liberty.

They are the pupils.

The teachers are Westminster co-coaches Sue Hooper and Brenda Baker, the legendary women of the game in Carroll County.

Hooper and Baker command respect the moment they step on the field. Between them, Hooper (22 years) and Baker (12 years) have been coaching the Owls for 34 years.

Hooper coached Vaughn and Wagner at Westminster, and Baker coached Stem at South Carroll and Wagner at Westminster. But not even Hooper and Baker could lose 11 players and come right back with a powerful team the next season. Right?

Maybe it was time for the 4A Owls to relinquish the Carroll County field hockey championship to the young coaches, which also includes North Carroll's Denean Powelson.

At least that was the way it looked on paper. Westminster was ranked behind three Carroll County schools in the preseason Top 15 poll.

North Carroll was No. 5, Key was No. 9, South Carroll was 10th, and Westminster was 13th.

Just the thought of three teams being ranked higher than Westminster stung Hooper's pride. It didn't matter that it was only a preseason poll.

Hooper has coached the Owls to eight state tournament appearances in the 18 years it has been held. Baker has been around for seven of those state tourney trips for Westminster.

Being fourth in the county is foreign to these women. The look in Hooper's eyes said, "No way." She was right.

Westminster (6-0, 3-0 in the county) was sitting in first place in the county standings Friday morning after the Owls had turned back North Carroll, 2-1, in a battle for the top spot.

Even before the win over the Panthers, Westminster had surged from 13th to seventh in The Baltimore Sun poll. North Carroll was eighth, Key ninth and South Carroll 11th.

Again, Hooper and Baker have taught the youngsters a thing or two about field hockey.

They are simply gifted coaches.

"We're honest with the kids," said Hooper. "We tell them in the beginning that no one is more special than anyone else, be it the best player on the team or the team manager. We treat them all the same. We treat them the way we want to be treated. We tell them to commit themselves to hockey and we will commit ourselves to the game. They understand this and have no problem with it. Our kids really care."

"The way we coach, there are no power plays between us or the players," said Baker.

"The kids who come through our program want the same things for themselves that we want. We're demanding. We want every kid to be the best she can be. This has brought us a tradition of winning and having a successful program.

"Every game of every season is a thrill for me. This team is like my extended family. When I first walk on the field at the start of a new season, I miss the departed seniors, but I soon get caught up in working with the new players."

Like the players, Baker admits she is looking forward to going back to Goucher College for another state tournament this season.

"It's always a thrill to walk on the field at Goucher," she said. "I hope we make it."

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