Despite a 2-10 record last season, Wilde Lake's field hockey team came within just a few goals of a winning season.
"Our record was terrible, but we weren't terrible," said second-year coach Karen Doerrler. "A lot of games we lost 1-0. That goes on your record, but it doesn't mean you're that bad."
This year the Wildecats (6-3-1, 4-1) have turned things around. They are winning more of those one-goal games and already have triple last season's win total.
"Everybody had the basic fundamental skills, but we just hadn't been able to put it together before," said senior back Toby Treem. "The whole team is basically seniors and, we've been together for several years. When we work together, we just win."
Even though they suffered a losing season last year, this group is no stranger to winning. As sophomores they went undefeated on coach Sigi Turner's junior varsity.
Most of the players say Doerrler is a big reason for the turnaround. After watching a revolving door of coaches, the Wildecats said they are happy to have a coach who knows the game and has committed to them for more than one season.
Ten seniors start -- forwards Karen Sutton, Maggie Barker, Kristin Thompson and Molly Norton, links Kim Driessen and Kelly Kilgus, backs Treem, Michelle McCone and Rachel Sola and keeper Jayme Kantor. Sweeper Melissa Anderson is the only junior.
The experience showed early. The Wildecats opened with a 0-0 double-overtime tie against St. Mary's -- a strong performance considering the Wildecats fell 5-0 a year ago.
"Holding a team like that scoreless and playing equally with them was great for our morale," said Doerrler.
The Wildecats then lost to No. 2 Fallston and Liberty before winning four straight to break into The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 field hockey poll. Their streak included wins over three ranked teams -- state Class 2A champ Loch Raven, 2-1; Mount Hebron, 2-1; and defending Howard County champ Glenelg, 3-1.
The Loch Raven game, in which the Wildecats outshot the Raiders 17-4, gave the team a huge boost.
"We knew all along we were a pretty good team," said Treem. "But we weren't able to show it until we beat Loch Raven. We showed ourselves something in that game."
With the wins over Mount Hebron and Glenelg, Wilde Lake bolted to the top of the Howard County standings. Then they fell to Hammond, 3-1, on Oct. 15, dropping out of first place and out of the Top 15.
"The pressure was building," said Doerrler, "It was getting pretty intense, and we're not used to that quite frankly. It's never happened before. Before the Glenelg game, they were nervous but it was an 'I-think-we-can' feeling. Before [Hammond], it was an 'I hope we can' kind of nervous. Now I think there's a feeling of 'Hey, we lost -- now let's win the rest.' "
The Wildecats rebounded Tuesday with a 1-0 victory at Atholton. Driessen scored the only goal in the second half. On Friday, they defeated Oakland Mills, 1-0, behind a goal by Sutton.
Senior wing Thompson said the loss to Hammond helped rid the Wildecats of their top-spot jitters.
"That was definitely a reality check. Now we realize that the winning streak was never going to last. It made us realize we're going to have to work harder -- we just can't come out and win," she said.
The Wildecats have plenty to build on, especially their revitalized offense. Last year, they only scored 10 goals, but they surpassed that total in just four games this season. They have scored 17 goals this season.
Barker leads the team with six goals and Sutton has five. In all of their wins, the Wildecats have scored first.
"Once they score, they really get pumped up," said Hammond coach Gay Petrlik. "This year, Wilde Lake is playing better than I've ever seen them play."