The Severna Park field hockey players admitted they were nervous going into Wednesday’s 4A East playoff game against rival Arundel.
It showed early in the game, when the Falcons played tight and faced deficits of 1-0 and 2-1.
But once the Falcons started having fun, their desired outcome took shape.
Severna Park came roaring back against the Wildcats, getting a second-half equalizer from Lila Slattery and a game-winning score by Jenna King to claim a 3-2 win and advance into the 4A bracket’s eight-team state tournament.
A year after falling to Arundel in the playoffs, the Falcons are back in contention for the state with their foremost adversary eliminated.
Head coach Shannon Garden said the key was enjoying the moment and playing with purpose.
“I feel like they came off the first half really nervous,” said Garden. “They were kind of playing not to lose. We talked about it at halftime and said, ‘You can’t play not to lose. You’ve got to play to win.’ In the second half they came out and showed me that heart and showed me that will, to play to win.”
It was not without reason that the Falcons felt jitters against their playoff nemesis from a season ago. Severna Park beat Arundel 2-0 back in late September, then came away with a buzzer-beating 2-1 win over the Wildcats in the county championship last week. Arundel was inching closer, and the proverbial difficulty of beating a team three times in one season hung over Wednesday’s game in Gambrills like the rainclouds that delivered a steady drizzle throughout the night.
The Wildcats took advantage early to draw first blood. Inside six minutes, Jillian Trout scored off a corner insert pass from Lana Hamilton, and the Wildcats’ dream was off to the perfect start, up 1-0 in front of their spirited home crowd.
Severna Park withstood continued pressure from Arundel before eventually forcing the ball downfield for their first spell of possession. The Falcons earned a corner, then another, then another, ultimately forcing five in succession. On the fifth, an insert pass from King was redirected in front of goal, where senior Sarah Adams was there to hit the rebound in and tie the game at 1-1.
Arundel hit back, bringing renewed attack. At the end of the first half, they won a corner as time expired and were given the chance to execute an untimed play with 0:00 showing on the clock. The Wildcats capitalized: the corner pass from Nikki Seven came out to Hamilton, who blasted a low burner toward the goal. It veered left of the frame, where Maggie Lockard hit it home for a 2-1 lead on the stroke of halftime.
Slattery, the Falcons’ consistently brilliant senior forward, came out of the break with visible intent to drive toward goal. On a corner play, she took a pass from King, cleared space from a charging defender with a deft dribble and fired a rocket through a forest of legs and sticks and into the boards to tie the game at 2-2 with 22 minutes to play.
Slattery said the Falcons, who haven’t faced deficits often this season, sourced inspiration from old newspaper articles about Falcon field hockey, and the content was perfect for the situation they found themselves in on Wednesday.
“There was a newspaper quote from a few years ago: ‘The Falcons might get down, but they never give up,’” Slattery said. “[Arundel is] a tough team, so we knew they wouldn’t give up either. I think we were just focusing on wanting it more and wanting it most. After every goal, no matter who scores, we focus on the next two minutes. We know we can always get back from anything.”
With a brand-new game at 2-2, the Falcons had the momentum. At just under 14 minutes to play, Slattery self-started 30 yards out from goal and made a dazzlingly shifty dribble to evade two Wildcats, sweeping the ball from left to right and perfectly into her stride for a big hit. Her long-range blast went left of goal, and King was on the spot.
“Lila had a really nice drive down to the back post, and I was just standing there and got a nice touch on it and got to finish it,” said King.
King’s score was the winner, but not without a patented defensive stand, the trademark of Severna Park’s season. Goalie Charley Kramer came up with a flurry of saves on Arundel corners. With a few minutes remaining, Hamilton fired a shot from a corner pass that banged the right post before it was cleared away. The back-line stalwarts of Emma Marsh, Zoe Day, Carson Smith and Lauren Aguilar calmly passed out of the back, salting away the clock with each clear.
Arundel’s time ran out. Severna Park’s players came pouring off the sidelines in celebration, the season’s top challenger vanquished.
Hearts were bound to be broken, and Arundel coach Carrie Vosburg, who has brought her program from mid-tier in the county to one of the state’s best over the past seven years, recognized the wealth of field hockey excellence on the field Wednesday.
“We are two of the best teams in the state,” Vosburg said. “It’s a shame that we had to meet so early and that one of us was sent home this quickly. It was a great game, and Anne Arundel County should be proud of our strong hockey programs.”
She spoke proudly of her Wildcats in defeat.
“Super proud of our team,” Vosburg said. “We had an amazing season, and they truly define the meaning of ‘team.’”
Severna Park earned the newly reformed title of region champions, of which there are now eight, as opposed to the four of previous seasons. Broadneck, 2-1 winners over South River on Wednesday, will also be in the eight-team dance to determine the state’s 4A champion.
King said the Falcons appreciated the magnitude of their accomplishment against the team that ended their season last fall.
“It’s a really great feeling just because last year we lost to them, our last game, on this field,” said King. “So it’s a second chance, it’s redemption, and it’s a really great feeling coming from a senior’s perspective.”
Garden, in her second year as Severna Park’s coach, responded with thoughtful insight to a good question by The Capital’s Bob Hough about the high expectations that come with leading Severna Park field hockey.
“The bar is set really high,” said Garden. “It’s been such a great pleasure. Do I feel like I need to continue the success? Yes. But you know what, a lot of it comes from the girls. They want the success. They work really hard. It is definitely a tradition to win for Severna Park. We still have to work really hard. They are accustomed to working really hard. I appreciate it. I walked in and they have a work ethic like no team I’ve ever coached.”
Adams, a senior and captain, said the Falcons’ nerves dissipated as the game went on.
“[Arundel’s] a really good team. There’s no denying that,” said Adams. “We use everything as fuel. We turn that nervousness into motivation. We play for the people next to us and everyone around us. It definitely feels good.
“Now that we’re moving on, it feels even better.”