Centennial still sticks out in the county FIELD HOCKEY PREVIEW


Gay Petrlik, like many of her coaching peers, favors Centennial. And why not? The Eagles were 14-1 last year, and for the last two seasons have not lost to a county team.

But in a sport where 1-0 games are customary, the Hammond field hockey coach is not ready to concede anything to anybody.

"There are always upsets," Petrlik said. "You can count on it. It's ,, a very unpredictable sport."

Because of the lack of rain, Howard coach Pat Becker sees the possibility of more surprises this season. "It'll be less predictable," she said, noting that ground is going to be especially hard. "Thirty percent of the time, the better team doesn't win as it is."

So perhaps predicting the unpredictable is predictable.

But thanks to a rule change this year, you won't need to call your personal psychic to find out what teams will make the regional playoffs. They all will. Forget the point system, it's now an open format where everyone is welcome.

"I think it's very good," said Mount Hebron coach Jeannette Ireland of the new system. "It allows teams to play tough opponents without worrying about the points."

Certainly the new system will benefit some teams, but for those like Centennial, the expectations are greater then just getting to the regionals. It's all about winning a state title, something no county team has ever done.

Centennial had 10 shutouts and allowed only six goals last season. But one of those scored against it was by Leonardtown in a Class 3A semifinal game. Though they dominated the game, the Eagles lost, 1-0.

Now, they want to get back and beyond. Gail Purcell, beginning her 19th year, thinks she has the team to do it.

"This is the deepest and most well-balanced team that I've ever had," said Purcell. "Last year Emily [Ward] was the major contributor and everybody kind of followed behind her. This year, I feel we have 11 very strong players on the field. We don't have to make up or cover for anybody. And then we have some depth on the bench as well."

Ward, an All-Metro selection and The Baltimore Sun Player of the Year who led the county with 18 goals last year, is now at the University of Maryland. She was involved in all but six of the team's goals.

So who is the standout this year?

"It's more of a team effort because we don't have a superstar forward," said midfielder Liz Sturm, a first-team All-County selection last year as a junior.

Centennial's team effort is no surprise considering how its players spend the off-season. They do a lot of training together, and the results are clear.

"The whole team went to summer camp," said Sturm. "That extra experience has helped us so much. We communicate so much better. We're more comfortable with how each other plays."

Purcell will look to Allison Altscher, a senior forward who had 11 goals last year, Sturm and sophomore right wing Kristen Gaudio for offense. But it is Sturm, who led the county in assists with 10 last year, that will make the offense go, according to goalie Becca Armiger.

"She's the team," said Armiger, a second-team All-County pick last year. "She sets everybody up. She's there when you need her. She makes things happen."

Centennial should be a happening team. "I've never had a team that possesses the kind of skill and the kind of heart as a whole that this team has," Purcell said. "It's a never-say-die attitude."

So should we predict that Centennial can, for the third season in a row, go undefeated against county teams? Can anyone beat them?

"Absolutely," said Atholton coach Carol Stevens. "My team can beat Centennial. We outshot them last year [in a 1-0 loss]. It just didn't go in."

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