Lila Slattery had already hit the goalpost twice without scoring for the Severna Park field hockey team when the she came charging toward goal late in the first half of the Falcons’ game against St. Mary’s on September 23, the score still knotted at 0-0.
When her next shot clanked loudly off the post for a third time, it seemed like the visiting Saints might have luck on their side.
“I was just trying to keep putting it in there, just be scrappy, and eventually something will get in,” Slattery said.
Her persistence paid off when the ricochet came back across goal and right to Emma Marsh, who banged it into the baseboard for a 1-0 lead. Slattery added an unassisted goal in the second half, and the Severna Park defense was tirelessly poised in helping the Falcons to a 2-0 win over their down-the-highway rivals of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference.
It was a quality win for a Severna Park team looking to re-establish the program at the top of the ultra-competitive Anne Arundel County pecking order. At 4-2 following the win over the Saints, second-year head coach Shannon Garden sees a team maturing before her eyes with difficult games against Chesapeake and South River on the horizon.
“I think we’re growing up,” said Garden. “I think we should be able to compete really well.”
The Falcons manifested Garden’s confidence against a strong Saints team, and it all began on the defensive end. The back line of outside defenders Zoe Day and Carson Smith and central defender Lauren Aguilar proved an impenetrable trio, calmly thwarting every Saint Mary’s advance and passing smoothly into the midfield.
Garden said the team deliberately moved some of its most skilled players to the back line to shore up the defense in front of freshman goalkeeper Charley Kramer, who was up to task in making three saves.
“They’re composed, they communicate well, and they can move the ball out of the backfield so well,” said Garden. “It’s huge. I’m a very defensive-minded person. To me, defense wins championships.”
Aguilar, a senior, said the defense has performed well in preventing goals but also in sparking the Severna Park transition to attack.
“I think the game went well,” said Aguilar. “We really work on transitioning a lot and being quick when the ball’s coming down the field and trying to stay marked up. It worked well, especially causing turnovers in the backfield, and then we have the advantage going forward.”
The Falcons must finish better — Saint Mary’s goalie Reagan O’Toole had a phenomenal game for the Saints, recording 11 saves — but Slattery agreed that the team’s conditioning is a good base from which to mount their attack. Falcon midfielders Sarah Adams, Anna Marcoon, Gen Mullervy, Jenna King and freshmen Meredith Schepens and Ava Drexler were tireless in pursuit of the ball and looked to have superior speed and endurance as the game wore on.
“We just keep going,” said Slattery. “We’ve worked really hard on conditioning. We had our training over the summer, and [strength and conditioning coach] Ben [Pardew] is an awesome conditioning coach. [Running is] just part of practice and we know we have to do it. When it comes to a game and we can outrun a team, we can take it farther than just with skills, because if you can dribble the ball but they can beat you to it, you’re not going to do anything.”
Conditioning proved helpful when the Falcons outlasted Broadneck in overtime on September 19, as Slattery scored in regulation and Kat Esposito scored the game-winner off a corner pass by Day to beat the host Bruins, 2-1.
“It was really a team effort,” said Esposito. “We’ve been working really hard in practice to finish on corners, so it just felt good. It was stressful going into overtime, but it was a really great feeling to beat [Broadneck].”
As the season moves into its second half, Aguilar said the team is less concerned with season-long goals than with improving against every opponent.
“We want to make it deep in the season, but we’re taking it one game at a time, because we live in a really competitive county, and every game matters, so we’re really happy with the win,” she said.
The happiness continued into the rest of the week, especially when Severna Park exorcised demons of playoffs past with a 2-0 win at Arundel on September 26. The Wildcats knocked the Falcons out of last year’s region playoffs, but it was the Falcons who reasserted themselves in this year’s rematch as Slattery scored both goals in the victory.
Despite early-season losses to strong teams from McDonogh and Mount Hebron, the team’s confidence is steadily building, and Esposito said the vibe of the group this year is back to pure basics.
“This year’s really great,” she said. “We’re all really close this year, we’ve bonded really well, and it’s just really fun.”