When Harford Community College faces visiting Ocean County College in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association field hockey championships Saturday, it will have some added incentive.
It wasn't supposed to be that way for Harford's nationally top-ranked team, but the Owls stumbled in their quest to an undefeated season last week, losing at Ocean, in Toms River, N.J., 2-1.
Tomorrow the national committee will seed two teams in the Northern Division, with perennial playoff entries Herkimer (N.Y.) CC (9-2-1); Dean College, Franklin, Mass. (10-2-0); and Becker College, Leicester, Mass. (10-2-1) the likely candidates. Harford already has been notified of its Southern Division matchup.
The two winners will play for the national championship Nov. 4, at the Southern site.
Harford (10-1-0) has four of the nation's top five scorers in sophomores Susan Mackley (16 goals, 10 assists), Pam Gauss (13 goals, three assists) and Diana Rice (six goals, 10 assists); and freshman Trisha Hudson (15 goals, four as sists).
Mackley and Gauss, returning NJCAA All-Americans, and two of the seven Fallston High graduates on the squad, are among eight holdovers from last year's team that lost in the national final.
Judy Davlin, in her 22nd year as head coach, once again will be trying to make a sweep of the national places. Her teams have placed second, third and fourth under the old four-team championship format no longer in effect.
"We didn't play our own game," Gauss said after the Owls' loss at Ocean, a team it had defeated earlier, 3-0. In last week's game, Harford dominated everywhere but on the scoreboard, with 31 penalty corners and 25 shots to Ocean's five corners and five shots.
"Now, we know what we have to do," Gauss said. "The motivation is there, and our attitude is different than a year ago when we went in with no JuCo losses."
Driving Gauss, too, is the fact last year's championship loss brought her back for a second year. She had considered transferring.
"We didn't reach our goal -- that's the reason I'm here," she said.
A year ago, Gauss had 25 goals and Mackley had 11, but the main source of offense was All-American Paula Beaudette, who set national scoring records. This time, although the overall scoring is down from last year, it is spread around, and more players have had a part in the action.
The Fallston connection is a strong one. Not only are Gauss, Mackley and fellow Fallston grad Judy Simon used to playing with each other, but, along with the others from that school, they bring the skills and team concepts taught by the Cougars' Alice Puckett, who has guided teams to state titles the last two years.
On the other hand, Lisa Fotia, a two-year starter as a back, was an All-County selection at Edgewood her senior year, but she had to learn how to win.
"I wasn't used to being on a winning team," she said. "It took some getting used to, especially going to the national tournament.
"I'm always learning. I'm not the greatest, but the coaching is there, and I watch my teammates, and the good players on other teams, and they teach me."
Of the Ocean game, Fotia said: "The loss brought us back to reality. We needed to lose, because it showed we can be beaten. Now we have to work to make sure it doesn't happen again."