After a slow start, a mad rush of Eagles; Francis Scott Key's field hockey team is flying high in Class 2A playoffs


Francis Scott Key field hockey coach Alison Weiss doesn't have to think for a long while to identify her team's peaks and valleys this year.

The low point came after the Eagles started their season with three losses and a tie in six games and left their coaching staff wondering what had happened to a school with a proud tradition in field hockey.

The high point was Oct. 4 when Francis Scott Key upset Fallston, ranked sixth at the time, 2-0.

"That was the turning point for us," Weiss recalls. "It definitely boosted our confidence a lot, and they realized what they could do."

And it's been a non-stop rush for the Eagles, who haven't lost a game since the victory over Fallston. Blake of Montgomery County was the latest victim in a 7-0 rout in a Class 2A West Region playoff game at Union Bridge on Thursday.

With the win, Francis Scott Key is 10-3-1 and ranked 14th. The school's next opponent will be Northwest, which beat Middletown on Friday.

Should Francis Scott Key get past Northwest, the Carroll County school could meet nemesis Bethesda-Chevy Chase, which has ousted the Eagles from the regional playoff tournament for the past two years.

Becky Arnold, a senior goalkeeper and co-captain for Francis Scott Key, says she is keyed up to play Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

"When we're doing sprints, we'll say, 'There's a BCC girl in front of you and you have to catch her,' " Arnold says. "We use BCC as our motivation."

Motivation is rarely a problem for the Eagles, who won five state championships at the Class 1A level in 1977, 1978, 1986, 1989, and 1992.

When Francis Scott Key made the move to Class 2A two years ago, the state titles stopped arriving, but the teams had been competitive under former coach Mindi Wagner.

When Wagner retired after last season, Weiss, who had just completed her first full season as the junior varsity coach, was promoted to the varsity squad.

"I would have rather had a couple more years on the JV team with the experience to get some things right," Weiss says, "but I also knew that we had a lot of talent, and I expected a good season."

Things went awry quickly. Although the Eagles fought county-rival Westminster to a scoreless tie in the third game of the season, Francis Scott Key lost to Middletown, North Carroll, and Glenelg by a combined 6-1 and struggled to beat Liberty and Urbana by one-goal margins.

That's when Weiss switched the team's focus from defense to offense. She moved several players to different positions and worked on attack drills in practice.

"We started concentrating on shooting a lot in practice," says senior midfielder and co-captain Kim Mathias. "We worked on hitting the cage and shooting faster."

The strategy yielded immediate results with the upset of Fallston and since then, the Eagles have outscored their past seven opponents, 22-1.

Senior forward and co-captain Jackie Kram leads the team with 15 goals and three assists, and Mathias has three goals and seven assists.

Arnold has allowed only 10 goals while making 53 saves, and senior defender and co-captain Lari Mead anchors a unit that has allowed only 88 shots -- none against Blake on Thursday.

Westminster coach Brenda Baker says opponents should not overlook Francis Scott Key.

"We always consider Key a tough game," Baker says. "We never take them lightly, and they never disappoint."

Winning has bred a certain sense of camaraderie among the players who organize potluck dinners and arrived before the beginning of school earlier this month to share breakfast.

"At game time, we're all together," says Kram. "We all want the same thing."

A state crown.

Pub Date: 10/31/99

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