Archbishop Spalding’s field hockey players knew what was on the line Thursday and maintaining an unbeaten record against their toughest opponent to date, Broadneck, was only a piece of the puzzle.
With longtime Cavaliers coach Leslee Brady a victory away from her 300th win, they couldn’t let her down — and they wouldn’t.
Spalding passed its biggest test of the season by bringing down the Bruins, 3-1. The moment the final horn sounded, Abby Nepp first rushed her grandmother, then her teammates rushed their coach, chanting, “300!”
Standing next to three giant gold 3-0-0 balloons and a banner, senior Katie Fichtner hoisted up a bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans and said, “This team is a family and it’s all because of coach Brady.”
Junior Ally Keith spoke to the dedication the 23-year head coach puts into the team, from summer through fall.
“She’s awesome. She always has our back and pushes us to be better and better every single day,” said Keith, as Brady hugged her. “So we really wanted to get this one for her.”
Keith, who scored two goals on Thursday, said she’s never felt so close with a team in her life. It’s part of what’s driving this Spalding team to toward competing for a championship.
“We have some other kind of connection,” Keith said.
It’s those kind of players, as well as her two assistant coaches Kelsey Bonner and Logan Edmondson, that Brady credits for her milestone.
“You’re only as good as your assistant coaches and your players. I’m just blessed to have had some really good players, really good coaches,” Brady said. “I’m proud of my accomplishments. I’m also proud it was all at Spalding.”
This school made it easy, said Brady, who also thanked the school’s administrations throughout her time.
Former athletic director and current assistant principal Jeff Parsons spoke of how welcoming and helpful Brady was not only to new coaches but to new athletic directors, too.
“You’re very lucky to have her,” Parsons said to the players. “We’re very proud of her.”
Brady captured her 200th win in 2014, one season after the Baltimore Sun named her the Coach of the Year following a season where she guided the Cavaliers to their first Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title in program history with just five seniors and a starting freshman in goal. Two seasons later, in 2015, Brady and Spalding once again claimed the crown, riding an undefeated record — similar to the unblemished one they have so far this fall — and a superstitious lucky pumpkin named “Punkin” with a painted red goofy face. The pumpkin’s 2021 reincarnation sits on the team’s water cooler.
One of the assistant coaches, Edmondson, was on that championship 2015 team. She adopted Punkin that “took us all the way to the championship,” per Brady. There’s even a photo of it in the locker room at Stevenson University on the title day.
“She said this team reminds her of that same team,” Brady said, “so she resurrected our pumpkin. So, yeah — I think we got a good vibe from day one.”
The Cavaliers (5-0) benefit not only from its veterans but its quickly-developing six freshmen as well — an unusually high number for Spalding.
“It bodes well for the future,” Brady said.
Even the defense that stymied the Bruins (4-2) after the first goal is anchored by two of those freshmen, along with the guidance of veteran Becca Lawn.
Broadneck caught Spalding still warming up. Junior Maya Everett swerved towards goal and while Spalding’s defense lunged her way, she dished a pass to junior Lexi Dupcak, who potted the early goal for the Bruins.
Brady hoped her impending 300th win didn’t put more pressure on her players. But whether it did or not, the seniors collected their teammates and calmed them down.
“One goal doesn’t scare us,” Brady said. “We knew we could score on them.”
Given the immediate pace Spalding threw at Broadneck afterwards, it came as no shock that the Cavaliers scored in response.
Keith rushed at the Broadneck net with Bruins junior Emily Ernst facing her down, pedaling back to secure the net.
But Keith showed no fear, lashing her shot at goal and tying the score at 1-1.
Spalding then swiped the momentum as soon as senior Bridget Donovan netted the go-ahead score off a corner to make it 2-1.
Momentary errors created openings for Spalding, Bruins coach Shannon Hanratty said, and she was proud of the way her defense fixed them as time went on.
“They really held strong — Spalding is an incredibly talented team. We really had to adjust…” Hanratty said. “They’re a fit team that can get everyone in each of the circles. That’s really hard to play with when you’re trying to cover each body.”
After that, both sides engaged in a feverish frenzy to bat one another’s offenses back.
Eventually Spalding increased their advantage. Keith reprised her role as she collected a pass from Bella Saviano and Donovan and slipped it under Broadneck keeper Chloe Rand for a 3-1 lead.
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“I’m really proud of the effort we put up,” Hanratty said. “I think we’re a team that’ll fight through to the end. I think teams will find whether we’re up or we’re down, we get a lot of opportunities — we’re just working on finishing them.”