Playing like a champion has been the rule rather than the exception for Carroll County field hockey teams in recent years.
Despite having only five high schools, the county has had plenty of representation in the state region and state championships in recent years -- a trend that could continue this year.
Take the 1994 season, for example. That's when all five county schools made various region finals -- and Francis Scott Key, North Carroll and Westminster advanced to the state final four in their respective classes.
North Carroll, in fact, had to beat Liberty for the region title -- paying back the Lions for a tough loss in the same game in 1993.
For Key and Westminster, the region titles kept alive a long string of successes.
Francis Scott Key had to go down to Poolesville in Montgomery County and hold off a furious second-half rally by the host Indians for a 2-1 victory and a 10th consecutive region championship last fall. The Eagles then lost to Pocomoke in the Class 1A state semifinals.
"[The streak] is definitely in the back of their minds," said Francis Scott Key coach Mindi Wagner. "But all we can do is play our best and let the chips fall where they may."
Most of the chips have fallen Key's way over the past decade as the Eagles won state titles in 1986 and 1993 while sharing one in 1989.
And last year, for example, Key stumbled to a 1-6 start. But the Eagles then won seven straight before losing to Pocomoke.
Westminster continues to work on a similar streak. The Owls have won six consecutive region championships -- and last year also captured the county crown and shared the Central Maryland Conference title with Liberty.
AThe Owls -- who won a state title in 1991 in addition to 1984 and 1985 -- have suffered painful losses in the Class 4A state semifinals each of the past two years. But Brenda Baker, who coaches the Owls with Sue Hooper, said the team does not use that as a motivating point.
"[The losses] have been in the back of their minds," said Baker. "They've suffered tough losses, but I really like that they take each game one at a time."
The other schools also fared well in recent regional playoffs. Liberty advanced to the region finals four of the last five years -- winning there twice.
North Carroll advanced to the region finals each of the three years that Denean Koontz has coached. The Panthers lost to Glenelg and Liberty in 1992 and 1993 before beating the Lions for a region title last year and then losing in the Class 2A state semifinals.
South Carroll also made it to a Class 3A region final last year, falling to Centennial. The Cavaliers made or have gone past the region final three times in the other four years Stacy Stem has coached them, taking the state title in 1991 and losing in the state final in 1992.
This year, however, realignment has cost the county another shot at having all five teams in the region finals.
Westminster and Key stand alone in their own regions -- but Liberty, North Carroll and South Carroll are together in the Class 3A North Region. Two county teams could make the finals again, but not a third.
"That's a shame they put us all in the same region," said Koontz.
Koontz also said that tradition is a big part of why the county continues to score in field hockey year after year.
"I just think there's a lot of pride here," said Koontz. "A lot of these games, you never know who's going to win."
Said Stem: "I think it's just an on-going tradition in this county. We know what it takes to get there."
The pride and tradition are deeply entrenched. Koontz (North Carroll), Stem (Liberty), Vaughn (Westminster) and Baker (Westminster) all played high school field hockey in the county and help keep the sport popular.
Plus, because the coaches rarely change, players become used to one system.
"I don't think you see the turnover in coaches [seen in other areas]," said Baker. "They don't have to experience a lot of different styles of coaching."
As for this season, Westminster, Francis Scott Key and Liberty seem to have the best chance of making it to their region finals -- or farther.
The Owls bring back a large number of experienced players from the state semifinalist of a year ago. Seven starters and 11 players come back from last season.
Led by Ann Brennan on offense and Nikki Cornell and Netia Little on defense, Westminster should have a good chance at region title number seven.
Francis Scott Key lost several key players from last year -- including eight seniors. But Wagner said this year's group works well together and, led by Stacey Greene, should fight for the region title.
Liberty should use a strong defense to battle for its region title. If the Lions can find some more offense, they could have a big year.
Both North Carroll and South Carroll will be in the midst of rebuilding years. The Panthers lost nine senior starters from last year's region finalist, and the Cavaliers lost several senior starters from their region finalist.