The early word out puts North Carroll as the county favorite this season and rightly so.
On paper, the Panthers lost only two players from last year's squad that reached the region finals while most of the other teams lost a great deal more.
But the games are played on fields -- some bumpier than others -- and the difference between a win and a loss can often come down to a ball hopping over a defender's stick and onto a streaking wing's. It always seems more likely to happen when the five county teams go up against one another or when the playoffs roll around.
Year after year, the season promises plenty of strong play, suspense and even some frustration. All those things help make the game of field hockey something special in Carroll County.
"A lot of it's tradition," said Key coach Mindi Wagner. "You look back in Carroll and field hockey has always been traditionally strong. In the county games, your stomach is empty and twisted, knowing any minute it can happen. It's just a different kind of game and one goal is usually all it comes down to."
Just ask any North Carroll Panther or Liberty Lion who played in any of the previous three years.
In 1993, it was Liberty capturing the region title with a win over North Carroll in penalty strokes. The Panthers got their revenge the next two years, beating Liberty in sudden-death overtime to win a region title in 1994 before knocking off the Lions in regulation on an Annie Eggers' goal with nine minutes left in an opening-round playoff game.
"We see them twice in the regular season and can always count on playing them again in the playoffs," said North Carroll coach Denean Koontz. "It doesn't matter who's better, or where it's at, it's always anybody's game. Anything can happen."
No team knows that better than the Westminster Owls, who have seen each of their past three seasons end in a puzzling, frustrating manner in the state semifinals.
It started with back-to-back, 2-1 overtime losses to Richard Montgomery and Northern of Calvert County in 1993 and 1994 and continued with a 2-0 loss to Walt Whitman last year.
Against Northern of Calvert, the Owls outshot their opponent, 27-4, and had a 23-2 edge in penalty corners. At the time, #F Westminster co-coaches Sue Hooper and Brenda Baker said in their combined 40 years of coaching, they had never seen a team dominate an opponent so completely and still lose.
Until last year.
The Owls, who have won four state titles, were hardly tested through the regular season and region playoffs to get to the state semis at Goucher College. Whitman marched up the field twice in the first 2: 10 of play and cashed in both times while the remainder of the game was spent at Westminster's offensive end with no results.
"Last year took the cake," Hooper said. "That one was the worst to understand and I still don't understand it. You go to states and do as well as you've done all season and lose. There was no letdown and there are no answers."
Koontz said every team has been there.
"It's tough. You try to teach the kids to play as hard as they can and just hope it comes out the right way," Koontz said. "Scoring is so difficult these days, and it's all about putting the ball in the cage. But you can play the best game you've played for 60 minutes and still lose. Everyone's been in that situation."
And so another season of Carroll field hockey is set to begin with its own set of questions waiting to be answered. Scoring once again seems to be the biggest concern, but there's plenty of talent looking to step up.
Jen Parrish, a first-team all-county selection last season, will play an even bigger role up front at Key with Stacey Greene playing at Lock Haven (Pa.) University, the two-time defending Division II champ.
At Westminster, junior forward Becky Towns will get plenty of attention as the only starter returning. Koontz hopes Eggers can carry over the scoring touch she had in the region playoffs last year.
With three seniors up front, Liberty could score some goals on a regular basis. South Carroll coach Stacy Stem is looking for Jaime Yokay to emerge as a scoring threat along with Chrissy Nichols.
Pub Date: 8/29/96