The state championship won by Severna Park field hockey on November 9 wasn’t just the final outcome of a successful season.
It was the return of the Falcons to the culture and tradition that has long made Severna Park field hockey a model of high school athletic excellence in Maryland and the country.
Katherine Esposito’s first-half stroke was the winning score in a 1-0 victory over Dulaney in the 4A state final at Washington College, where the Falcons claimed the program’s 24th title and first since 2015.
Severna Park’s current seniors were eighth graders when the Falcons last claimed the state crown, and they’ve lived through an eventful era of Severna Park field hockey to leave the program with one final victory on the biggest stage of their careers.
“We worked so hard this year to get here. We really wanted it for them,” said Falcons’ second-year head coach Shannon Garden. “Incredible group of seniors. My senior leadership has just been amazing. I’ve been coaching for a long, long time, and this is the best group of seniors I’ve ever had.”
Those seniors—captains Lila Slattery, Anna Marcoon and Sarah Adams and classmates Lauren Aguilar, Jenna King, Erin Schaner, Sophie Grazioli, Anna Grace Keller, Kate Rott and Quincy Laughlin—brought the Falcons (16-2) to the precipice of a title at Washington College via one of the most competitive seasons of county and region field hockey ever. Severna Park entered the final having notched an opening-round playoff win over Annapolis and hard-fought playoff wins over Arundel, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Old Mill preceding its matchup with the Dulaney Lions (16-2), and the Falcons needed another well-executed 60 minutes to come away with a win.
They gave every indication that they were up to the task, controlling play with characteristically stout defense, aggressive midfield pursuit, crisp passing and an unrelenting tide of attacks and buildups.
The teams traded jabs in the midfield through much of the first half until a corner play with 10:17 left in the half gave Slattery the opportunity to fire a shot on goal. The ball hit a Lions defender behind the goal line, awarding a stroke to the Falcons.
If Dulaney had scouted Esposito’s stroke history, they might have learned that she went low and left when converting the decisive stroke in Severna Park’s county-championship win over Arundel in October. Since that victory, the stroke is Esposito’s team-given responsibility, and Slattery said the Falcons have full confidence in their teammate.
“As soon as we got the stroke I knew, we still celebrated, because we know Kat can score on strokes,” said Slattery. “We knew she had the capability.”
Esposito said she kept an empty mind stepping up to take the shot that might carry with it a state championship.
“I don’t think at all,” said Esposito. “It’s easiest to just hit the ball. If I think too much I get nervous, so it’s better to just not think at all.”
The junior went low and left again, scoring and giving the Falcons all the lead they needed. The back line of Aguilar, sophomore Zoe Day and junior Carson Smith, as well as freshman goalkeeper Charlotte Kramer, displayed the poise they’ve shown while navigating close victories all year. Aguilar, Day and Smith repeatedly thwarted Dulaney’s advances, and Kramer made a kick save early in the first half and a flurry of saves in the second half to finish with four for the game.
Severna Park closed with its 10th shutout of the season against a Dulaney team that entered the game with 64 goals and hadn’t been kept off the scoreboard in any game this year.
Garden became animated when asked about the team’s defense.
“My defense! You know what I say, defense wins championships, and here we are in a 1-0 game, so my defense held. Defense was so key,” said Garden, noting the team honed in on fundamentals in practice since surviving its 2-1 win over Old Mill in the semifinals. “You can see how well they practiced because of how well they played today. They came up big.”
Garden praised the cool play of Kramer, the freshman wunderkind who took over the goalie role from Keller, a senior who embraced the role of backup and mentor.
“Tonight I think is the best I’ve ever seen [Kramer] play, and I am so happy for her,” said Garden. “She’s not nervous. She’s just not. She is well beyond her years in that kind of maturity. If you spoke with her, you would never think she’s a freshman.”
A subsequent goal by Marcoon in the closing minutes of the game was waived off after it was determined the ball initially ricocheted off the top of the net, but it didn’t matter. With demonstrably superb conditioning and endurance, the midfield and attacking unit of Slattery, Adams, King, Marcoon, Emma Marsh, Meredith Schepens, Ava Drexler-Amey and Bekah Mayron had spent the afternoon wearing Dulaney down, and the Falcons kept the ball pressed into their attacking end until the final horn sounded and the title was theirs.
In taking the crown, Severna Park achieved the goal it missed out on last year, when Garden and assistant coaches Kelly Shanahan and Ben Pardew took over the program but fell in the playoffs to Arundel.
That outcome motivated and reshaped the players’ outlook. Instead of holding a states-or-bust mentality in August, they focused more on each step of the journey.
“Taking it game by game was really important,” said Adams. “Last year showed us what we didn’t want. So it pushed us to work harder in practice, run those 800’s, and do so much for the program. And rebuild it, really. We just had to start from the beginning again.”
Said Marcoon of coming up short last year, “I think it really pushed us to be our best selves. We all knew what the goal was, but we just took it game by game, focused on getting out of our county first, then on the playoffs, and it wasn’t until we got here that we were like, ‘Okay, now it’s states. Now it’s time to leave it all out there.’”
Asked about the mix of players on the team, Marcoon agreed the Falcons weren’t a top-heavy juggernaut that could easily steamroll opponents on talent alone. Instead the Falcons had to carve out their roles and complement each other.
“It’s more of a group effort,” Marcoon said. “It’s not just like, three Division I players. We have some great players and some that are going to play in college, but a lot of us, we just mesh really well even if some us are true lacrosse players or are not playing in college. We all have a part in it. It’s not just one or two people who do it all.”
Aguilar said with the roster featuring players from all grade levels, the team had to take the right approach coming into the season to be successful.
“A big part of it too was going into it with an open mind, especially since we didn’t really all know each other,” said Aguilar. “So we just had to go into it and see how it would end up. At the end now, we all feel like better people and field hockey players, because we all got along so well, were so nice and respectful for each other and patient at the beginning of the season.”
Aguilar said the team also kept the focus right where it was when the Falcons picked up field hockey sticks for the first time as kids.
“I think we had fun,” said Aguilar. “I think we had fun playing Arundel three times. We had fun playing here. We really just love playing and being on the field together, and I think that was the biggest part.”
The 2019 state champion Severna Park field hockey palyers are Anna Grace Keller, Charlotte Kramer, Katherine Esposito, Quincy Laughlin, Laren Aguilar, Sarah Adams, Molly Beairsto, Ava Drexler-Amey, Edie Deegan, Lila Slattery, Erin Schaner, Meredith Schepens, Anna Marcoon, Amalia Hagerty, Kate Rot, Jenna King, Carson Smith, Sophie Grazioli, Emma Marsh, Zoe Day, Bekah Mayron and Genevieve Mullervy. The team is coached by Shannon Garden and assistant coaches Ben Pardew, Kelly Shanahan and Lexi Bristow. The team managers are Fatou Sall and Rachel Rinker.
- Player after player spoke of the close bond they shared as key to their success.
“We as a team, we are all just best friends, we love each other so much, and we play for each other,” said Adams. “The chemistry is just amazing. Of course everyone is really good too, but without the chemistry you don’t always succeed.”
Said Slattery, “I think we had really great chemistry and we had a lot of heart. We were able to work together and work for each other. Every time we stepped on the field we knew we could work for each other and finish together.”
- Slattery, who as the Falcons’ top scorer and offensive engine is likely to collect just about every individual accolade she’s eligible for in the coming weeks, just completed a long odyssey for the Slattery family. Her sisters Emma, Samantha and Julia all won state championships playing for Severna Park.
“My family, this is our 11th year here, so it just feels like a great ending. It feels amazing. I saw all of them play on this field at least once. So to finally be on the field myself, it’s just a different experience. I don’t even know, I’m speechless.”
- Garden praised the work of assistants Shanahan and Pardew, who helped Chesapeake to back-to-back 3A championships in 2016 and 2017 before joining her at Severna Park.
“I call them my team,” Garden said, beckoning Pardew and Shanahan to join her in postgame comments. “I don’t do this without them. This does not happen without Ben Pardew and Kelly Shanahan.”
- Like she described after Severna Park’s region championship win over Arundel, Garden credited the players with creating their own expectations. She said the ethos of hard work and dedication comes from the kids and was key to forming their culture of Severna Park field hockey.
“This group, I’m telling you, they’ve worked so hard,” Garden said. “They worked hard really hard to create a positive environment for everybody on the team, and it really shows, because every girl on the team is so excited. Even yesterday at our last practice, they were crying at the end of practice, because they didn’t want it to be over. And I have all ages on this team, freshmen through seniors, so it’s an excellent mix. They all feel valued and important, and I think that starts at the senior level, of making them feel that way, and they’ve done an amazing job with that.”