With the loss of its entire front line from a year ago, it appeared Fallston's two-time defending state champion field hockey team might stumble this season.
After all, replacing the nearly 25 goals lost would not be an easy task, considering the Cougars were starting three newcomers on attack.
Then again, Fallston never has been a team short on talent and Kate Simon, Carrie Wirth and Danielle Marconi have shown unusual poise for sophomores.
Led by Wirth's eight goals, one assist and Simon's seven goals and two assists, the Cougars have scored three goals in a game eight times and through Friday, No. 2 Fallston (9-0, 6-0) was averaging 3.5 goals a game. Twice this season, Wirth has recorded a hat trick, and Simon has at least one point in each of Fallston's last seven games.
"I knew that the kids we were bringing in on the front line were better athletes than the kids we lost but not with the hockey experience," said coach Alice Puckett. "I am a little surprised, but there are some that have really contributed that I didn't count on, like Rebecca Dorsey [three goals] and Diana Ordes [two goals]."
Although Puckett said that her offense is scoring at the same rate as the two previous years, when the Cougars won state titles, if the current trend continues, this group could wind up as good as Fallston's most prolific scoring teams of 1992 and 1993.
"I don't think right now these kids are the big scorers like [Susan] Mackley and [Pam] Gauss were, but perhaps the midfield behind them is better," said Puckett.
The Cougars' exceptional trio of links, seniors Carrie Grable, Rachel Simon and Katie Wirth, have been responsible for creating many opportunities in the circle. Together, Grable, a first-team All-County selection along with Wirth, and Simon, last year's Harford County Player of the Year, dominate the middle of the field with their aggressive style of play, quickness and strong drives. This allows the Cougars' offense to keep constant pressure on opposing defenses. Also, all three are used to winning.
"I am surprised at how much we're scoring because it's been a lot of sophomores," said Simon. "As links, you would think that if the front line wasn't so strong, we would be going through and getting more shots off, but they've just been taking care of it."
Said Grable, "We knew the past couple of years would be tough to follow, but the sophomores have just stepped in and done the job. I feel like I take less shots this year than I did last year."
It has allowed the midfield to help the backfield, where the Cougars, too, suffered key losses, yet remain one of the area's best.
First-year starters Carey Preston, at sweeper, and Lauren Sostrin, right back, have filled in nicely as Fallston has not allowed a goal in its past 10 games. Like their counterparts up front, the only thing Preston and Sostrin lacked was playing time.
"Carey has been steady and she has a big drive, which is what you look for at her position," said Puckett.
"Sostrin has been a real pleasant surprise. She replaced Kathleen Turk and not that I didn't expect her to do well, but I didn't expect her to come back in the best shape and be as strong as she is."
After failing twice to win a state title at Class 1A, Puckett has won five Class 2A titles in seven years and now Fallston hopes its fortunes continue with the move up to Class 3A. However, with the departure of 14 seniors next season, this looks to be the Cougars' only legitimate shot at another championship.
Said Puckett, "3A will be challenging, our region is going to be tougher this year but we look forward to it."