South River field hockey goalie Virginia Jorden doesn't mind the possibility of playing No. 1 Severna Park three times this season.
Jorden has faced the 16-time state champion Falcons four times in the past two seasons, twice in the regular season and twice in the Anne Arundel County championship game.
Now that the Falcons have moved from Class 3A, where they won three of the past four state titles, to Class 4A, where South River won in 2004 and 2005 and was the runner-up last season, there's a strong possibility Jorden could see the Falcons in the East regional playoffs.
Although Jorden has never beaten the Falcons, two of her losses were by one goal, and she looks forward to the competition.
"It doesn't really matter if we play Severna Park going to the state title," Jorden said. "Playing them is a challenge, because they are a strong team. If we did have to go through them, and we might have to, it would make getting there even better. We would have to push our team to the max and it would be a lot more interesting along the way."
Severna Park is one of several programs that has changed classification this fall with the biennial realignment of the state's 188 public schools for all sports according to enrollment. The 47 largest schools are in Class 4A, followed by 3A and 2A with the smallest schools in Class 1A.
Other significant field hockey changes include defending Class 2A champion Hereford moving to 3A, Class 2A finalist Glenelg moving to 1A, North Carroll and Westminster moving from 3A to 4A and co-defending Class 1A champion Rising Sun moving to 2A.
To Severna Park coach Lil Shelton, Class 4A is nothing new. The Falcons spent 27 years there, winning 13 state titles before moving to 3A in 2001.
Shelton doesn't mind moving back to Class 4A, except that her East region includes seven other Anne Arundel County teams.
"I don't have any real feeling other than that we are going to play the same teams all the time. I enjoyed being in 3A, because we played River Hill, Mount Hebron and these other teams we hadn't seen. It's refreshing to go play teams we hadn't seen," said Shelton, in her 32nd year with the Falcons.
With Severna Park's state tournament resume - 16 championships and 24 final four appearances, both records - its move to 4A would seem not to bode well for the Falcons' local rivals, especially since no other Anne Arundel County team has ever won a state title with Severna Park in its classification.
"I'm not terribly excited about it, but I love the competition," South River coach Katie Corcoran said. "I think our region is going to be a very tough region. We have three or four very good teams that could go on in the state tournament, but unfortunately only one of us gets to go through."
Like Corcoran's goalie Jorden, Severna Park senior Allison Behringer doesn't mind the change. She said going through South River and-or Broadneck to get to a state title would make it more rewarding.
"Two years ago, we [Severna Park and South River] both won states and it was like, 'If we played you, who knows what could have happened?' So it would be cool to match up early," Behringer said.
Broadneck's Shannon Hanratty agreed.
"It's a huge rivalry and we all have fun with it," said Hanratty, whose Bruins won the 4A title in 2002. "We know some of [the Falcons] from playing offseason. It would be so huge [to beat Severna Park in the regional playoffs]. It would make it so much sweeter. ... It would put the cherry on top."
One team that is sorry to see Severna Park leave Class 3A is Fallston, which had developed a regional tournament rivalry with the Falcons. The Cougars upset Severna Park in regional final shootouts in 2001 and 2002, but the Falcons have gotten the better of the rivalry since, reaching the state final the past four years.
"It's disappointing, because it really was good competition," Fallston senior Cait Walker said, "and after the past two years [in which the Cougars lost to Severna Park], it would have been nice to have another chance. We like to play them. We're always pumped to play them."
However, the Cougars, who have won nine state titles, are ready to welcome Hereford, which has won five, to the 3A North region.
"We don't really know anything about them," Walker said, "but it could be good not to know what you're coming up against."
To Glenelg coach Ginger Kincaid, whose team has lost to Hereford in two of the past three Class 2A finals, the move to 1A won't be as easy as it might seem.
"A lot of people have already said to me, 'You should crush people,' and that isn't so," said Kincaid, in her 31st season at Glenelg.
"We've been there before in 1A. Even though they're small schools, they're competitive hockey schools. I don't view it as a cakewalk and anyone who does is just silly."
The Gladiators have a competitive region that includes Poolesville of Montgomery County and South Carroll - both 2002 state champions. If the Gladiators win the region, the state title goes through Worcester County's Pocomoke, which has won 14 championships and is the second-most successful program in state tournament history behind Severna Park.
While most of these field hockey programs have moved up and down in classification over the years, one thing is certain.
"It's not like anybody's got a clear path [to a title]," Kincaid said. "No matter where you go, somebody moves into your path again. It's not going to be easy for anyone."