A pair of Carroll County field hockey rivals has reached the state tournament in Liberty and South Carroll, one of which is back for a third consecutive season and the other returning for the first time in 14 years.
The Lions are two wins away from their second state crown in three seasons. The Cavaliers need two more victories for their first title since 2002.
Both teams play in state semifinals Wednesday at 5 p.m. — Liberty faces Glenelg at Paint Branch High School on the Class 2A side, while South Carroll takes on Crisfield in a 1A matchup at Broadneck High.
And, both teams are carrying similar strategies into their biggest games of the fall.
“We’re just so excited to still be playing in November,” said SC coach Julie Radnoff. “We’re going to come play as hard as we can and lay it all on the line.”
“We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Liberty coach Brenda Strohmer said. “We’re not changing the way we play.”
The Cavaliers are 9-8 but started the season with four losses in their first six games. After a 2-0 setback against Century, the Cavs were 4-7. They’re 5-1 since then, and Radnoff said a challenging schedule has been beneficial this fall.
Four of their losses have come by one goal — one was in double overtime against Marriotts Ridge, another was an OT defeat against Bel Air.
“When I set up the schedule this year, I made it harder than last year,” said Radnoff, in her third year at South Carroll. “The record could have been better, but it could have been worse too. It comes down to getting ready for playoffs. We needed to be more mentally tough than we were last year.”
Radnoff said South Carroll’s playoff loss last season to Francis Scott Key, the eventual 1A state runner-up, was devastating. The Cavaliers felt like they let a win slip away, their coach said, and needed a little more time than usual to recover. Radnoff described the game as a “landmark defeat,” however, because she had a feeling it would fuel her players for 2018.
Despite a regular season below .500, Radnoff said SC has responded.
“It took them a long time to understand that it was worthwhile to put that much emotion on the line,” she said. “All it takes is one game like that to get things going.”
The Cavs face Crisfield, a state semifinalist last fall. The Crabbers (10-5) clipped Kent County 5-4 to win the East Region title.
Meanwhile, Liberty (15-2) rides a seven-game winning streak into its showdown with Glenelg. The Gladiators (12-1-1) are the reigning 2A state champs, and they outscored their two regional opponents 7-0.
The Lions have outscored their last seven foes by a combined 19-2 with five shutouts.
Strohmer, in her ninth season as coach, guided Liberty to the Carroll County Athletic League title — the program’s first such championship since 1982. And two years ago, the Lions claimed a 1A state crown.
The culture has changed in recent years, and Strohmer credits a boost from the area’s rec and club programs.
“The kids are getting interested earlier and they’re playing more,” she said. “So they’re getting to the high school ready to play and you don’t have to go too much over the basics. Not that long ago, a lot of times it was the non-soccer players looking for something to do. …We were making people goalies, and now we’re getting goalies in.”
Making state tourney appearances is now an expectation, Strohmer said, because Liberty’s players work hard and want to maintain the program’s success.
They’ll likely need a top-notch effort to knock off Glenelg, which is making its 20th trip to the state final four. But Strohmer said, much like South Carroll, the Lions aren't about to let the big stage get them unnerved.
“We know they’re aggressive, we know they’re fast,” Strohmer said about the Gladiators. “We’re going to go out and do our thing. Glenelg has to beat us. … They’re not loose, but they’re confident and they’re ready.”