Boasting an imposing mix of veteran leadership and young firepower, the Garrison Forest field hockey team entered this season as the unquestionable team to beat in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. Then a midseason string of bad luck sent players scrambling for answers.
As a handful of key contributors dealt with injuries early last month, the Grizzlies fell to Archbishop Spalding — a team they had handled convincingly earlier in the season — for their second conference loss in three games.
"That was probably our lowest point," senior Riley Patro said. "We decided the next day at practice that this wasn't over. That's really when we picked up the intensity… we never saw that team again."
The team that showed up for Sunday’s rematch in the IAAM A Conference finals was intense from start to finish, taking the early lead on Ryleigh McComas’ goal off a feed from Patro, as No. 2 Garrison Forest allowed just one shot on goal in a 1-0 win over top-ranked Archbishop Spalding at Stevenson University.
Following that loss to the Cavaliers in mid-October, the Grizzlies finished out their season with five straight shutouts.
"Our back three, no matter who it is, has held strong for a solid hour every time we play a game," first-year coach Malcolm Belin said. "I think the last time we played [Spalding], we were just a little bit frazzled, at their home, and it kind of got the better of us. But today showed how [we] can play."
Garrison (16-3-1), which had lost to Notre Dame Prep in the final each of the past two years, earned its first championship since 2012, when the Grizzlies finished a run of three straight. To get back on top, they dominated play in the first half, breaking on top just 3:21 into the game.
That's when Patro, near the top of the circle, sent a hard entry pass toward the middle, and McComas, standing in a crowd of players near the goalmouth, took care of the rest.
"I kind of got it on the back of my stick and directed it into the goal," McComas said. "It was perfect timing."
For a team that had found the back of the cage just once in its past two games, getting the early lead was a huge relief.
"We're not a team who likes to play down, so whenever we can get an early one it helps," Belin said. "That was kind of a deep breath we all got to take."
All told, Garrison outshot Archbishop Spalding 8-1, also earning 10 penalty corners to the Cavaliers' one.
But that's not to say that Spalding (17-3-1) didn't have its chances, particularly in the second half, including Katie Fichtner's hard shot off a spin move to her right that freshman goalie Alyssa Klebasko blocked with her stick with 10:09 to play in regulation.
Following a sluggish start, the Cavaliers played more aggressively after halftime, creating a handful of opportunities by pressuring Garrison’s defenders in the backfield. Ultimately, though, none panned out.
"When you get to this game, it's a bounce here, a bounce here, a call here… it's anybody's game," Spalding coach Leslee Brady said. "Two really good teams going at it, and somebody has to come out on the losing end. My girls played their hearts out. Especially in the second half we had some opportunities. We just couldn't finish on them."
IAAM A Conference final
(at Stevenson University)
Garrison Forest 1, Archbishop Spalding 0
Goal: GF — McComas. Assist: GF — Patro. Saves: GF — Klebasko 1; AS — Somerville 7. Half: Garrison Forest, 1-0.
B Conference final
John Carroll 2, Bryn Mawr 1: Fifth-seeded John Carroll (13-5) scored a pair of second-half goals to upset second-seeded Bryn Mawr, 2-1, in the IAAM B Conference field hockey final at Archbishop Spalding. The win gave the Patriots their first title since 2016, when they finished off a run of three straight. The No. 14 Mawrtians finished 10-4-1.
C Conference final
Friends 2, Park 1: Third-seeded Friends scored a pair of second-half goals to top No. 1-seeded Park, 2-1. The win gave the Quakers (11-4) their first title since winning the B Conference in 2004. Park finished 11-3.