Westminster’s field hockey team had a habit this season, their coaches and players said, of letting a little fear set in if an opponent scored first.
Many times the Owls were able to recover and settle, which gave their skill players enough time to tally the equalizer and then some. Composure is one of the traits that powered Westminster into the state tournament for a 27th time in program history.
This time, however, the fear was too much to overcome.
Chesapeake had plenty to do with that — the Cougars of Anne Arundel County put together a pressure-packed offensive strategy almost from the start, and the Owls felt it.
“We spent the entire first half chasing,” said Westminster midfielder Veronica Maring, “and we were playing the long ball game. We knew it was going to be hard to get past them. When it came down to that [first] goal going in, we just felt our heart drop. We really didn’t think that this was going to be our last game.”
Chesapeake broke through early in the second half and ran away with a 4-0 victory Monday at Broadneck High School. The Cougars will be going for a third consecutive 3A state title Saturday at Washington College.
Westminster (13-4) said it knew the scouting report, that Chesapeake was a strong second-half team. The Cougars (12-6) boasted a go-to player on offense in senior Rachel Fleig, who became her team’s all-time leading scorer in Chesapeake’s first playoff game by reaching 70 goals and 50 assists.
Fleig scored twice in the second half, her first coming during a penalty corner play less than 8 minutes after the break.
Mason Frecthel, another senior, put Chesapeake ahead 1-0 a little more than 2 minutes into the second half.
“Attack,” Cougars coach Joan Johnson said when asked what her team’s focus was going into the contest. “And once we got one, it would be easier to just open up the door and go, go, go. My girls are in shape and my girls work hard. That was their MO, to just keep pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Maring said the Owls felt the pressure, even with more than 20 minutes remaining and trailing by two. But to get even, Westminster’s passes needed to be crisp and its transition game sharp.
Neither of those things happened long enough to mount a comeback.
“We didn’t go to the ball like we should have, both offensively and defensively,” said Owls coach Laurie Naill. “We didn’t continue our play, so that hurt us too.”
Junior defender Caitlyn Johnson tallied two assists for Chesapeake, and Madison Billing, a junior midfielder, gave the Cougars a 3-0 lead with 15:30 to play when positioned herself by the far post and waited for a long hit from just beyond the top of the circle.
Fleig added her second goal at the 12:18 mark.
The Owls were dejected after the loss, failing to make it to the finals and in search of their 10th state crown and first since 2014.
It was the high school finale for 12 seniors, led by Maring, the reigning Times Player of the Year, and Haleigh Moore on offense. Westminster’s defense had Arianna Babylon and goalie Lauren Jenne (seven saves) leading the way. Junior Emma Border made a defensive stop as well.
The Owls should return their share of talent, however.
Kirby Henneman, a sophomore forward, leads Carroll County in scoring this season. Junior Eleni Tartaglia shined in her first varsity season. Margi DiPiertro and Julia Rogalski, both sophomores, saw their minutes in the midfield.
It’s “States or Bust” for Westminster every fall, and everyone associated with the program understands the expectations.
“I’m not upset,” Naill said. “They don’t have anything to be ashamed of. They got this far, and they played some tough teams and really proved themselves this year. And that’s all I can ask for.”
Goals: C-Rachel Fleig 2, Mason Frechtel, Madison Billing.
Assists: C-Caitlyn Johnson 2, Shelby Bennett.
Saves: C-3 (Eve Vickery); W-7 (Lauren Jenne).
Halftime: Tied, 0-0.