Mikaela Berst tallied the first goal and first assist of her Lake Braddock varsity field hockey career in a 6-0 win over Lee Monday. But the occasion had far more significance for a senior midfielder who spent the last year just trying to get back on the field.
Berst went down with an injury during a junior varsity soccer game at Chantilly in March 2012. But she doesn’t remember the “who” or “where” in that equation.
Then a sophomore, Berst timed a jump and went up to contest a 50-50 ball. So did her Chargers counterpart. The two players banged heads, and Berst took the worst of the collision, absorbing a blow on the forehead just above her right eye.
She crumpled to the turf.
For Berst, the first few months following her concussion were a blur – literally, as the Burke native had trouble focusing for any length of time and endured an endless barrage of Electroencephalography tests (EEGs), CAT scans, and concussion baseline tests.
Still, the aspiring multi-sport athlete figured she’d only be out of commission for a couple weeks, a month tops.
But when Berst showed up at Lake Braddock this August for varsity field hockey practice, she’d been gone for more than a year.
“Weeks and months started passing,” said Berst, now a senior. “It was insane. I had no clue how bad I was hurt, I guess.”
The severity of the injury sunk in during the spring of 2012, as she missed more than a month of school with headaches and fatigue.
She slept mostly, and doctors urged her not to read, watch TV, or use her phone.
Her friends and teammates were a constant presence at her Burke home, dropping off signed cards, baked goods, and edible flower arrangements. They texted Mikaela every day, even though they knew she wasn’t often able to respond.
The lingering head injury didn’t just damage Berst’s athletic career; it began to sap long-standing friendships.
“After the concussion, we kinda grew apart because of the activities that we could participate in,” said Lake Braddock senior Allison Slocum, who’s known Berst since the two were first graders at Cherry Run Elementary in Burke. “She couldn’t play any sports. We were still best friends, but we had grown apart in our interests.”
Berst recovered enough to manage the Bruins (1-7) last fall, but always eyed a return to the field as a player. Now, finally, she’s back.
“I was happy that I knew I still had field hockey skill in me, that I didn’t lose everything,” Berst said of her goal against Lee. “It was just a great moment.”
It’s one she doesn’t plan on forgetting anytime soon.
She defended her goal despite a lopsided shot total against Glenelg (21 shots from the Gladiators to the Mustangs’ eight) to give Glenelg its first Howard County loss in six years with a 2-1 win on Sept. 10. And if all goes to plan, Hamilton will become the third player in the history of Marriotts Ridge field hockey to play in college.
Her top choices currently are Division 3 Catholic and Franklin & Marshall College (Pa.). The first two Mustangs to play in college are both from the class of 2013 and compete at Division 3 Elizabethtown College (Pa.) and Division 2 Limestone College (S.C.)
“It was pretty exciting to see the other girls I played with on club teams have that happiness and support in college going in,” Hamilton said. “My ability to play at the next level, that’s a reflection on my coach. She’s been awesome and I’m extremely grateful.”
Coach Stacie Gado has been around for eight of the nine years of Mustangs field hockey, and Sophie is the third of the Hamilton siblings that she has coached or taught.
“She’s a leader on and off the field and very vocal with her defense,” Gado said of the three-year varsity starter.
“During Glenelg, our team was getting slammed in the first half and the defense was getting pounded. Sophie’s very confident in the cage and has no problem coming out to challenge an attacker one on one. She’s not timid.”
Hamilton started playing field hockey in sixth grade and took her first turn in the goal a year later.
“I liked playing in the field, but I’m just better at goalie,” Hamilton said. “I like the command.”
Hamilton is a second-year captain for the team and a volunteer coach for a team of third and fourth-graders with the Howard Stampede. Back-to-back practices often have Hamilton rushing from Mustangs’ practice to coaching her own team with little or no breaks in between.
Her team was out for the Glenelg game to cheer her on and watch Marriotts Ridge make Howard County history.
“It was really fun to have all these 8 and 10-year-olds cheering you on during that game,” Hamilton said. “The feeling was so nice to get that win. It’s eight years in the making, so it’s kind of a trophy for us. I cried afterwards, I think a lot of the seniors did.”
Glenelg has knocked the Mustangs out of playoffs for the past four years, and they will likely meet again this postseason.
Marriotts Ridge agreed to step up its endurance training and sprinting after a 6-1 loss to the Gladiators in playoffs last year. Gado says the extra “gas” helped them pull ahead against the Gladiators this season, but they were still outhustled in a 1-0 loss to Mount Hebron (5-0) last week.
Marriotts Ridge has a team of 15, maybe one of the smallest in the county, according to Hamilton. They’ve gotten two of their toughest tests out of the way in the first few weeks, and will face Reservoir (0-3), Hammond (1-2) and River Hill (2-1) in the next week.
“I like our coach’s approach of taking one game at a time — to get to that next level, you have to beat the smaller teams,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have to play the tougher teams again, but if we keep practicing and playing at the rate that we have been, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.
South River maintains the top spot after notching a 1-0 win against Broadneck. . . . Atholton bounced back from a loss to Mount Hebron with back-to-back 8-0 wins. . . . After two losses to open the season, Glenelg has outscored its last two opponents by a combined 11-0. . . . Westfield notched a decisive 2-0 win over Fairfax on Tuesday.
1. South River (4-0) LW: 1
2. Severna Park (4-0) LW: 2
3. Glenelg (2-2) LW: 3
4. South County (6-2) LW: 5
5. Westfield (6-2) LW: 8
6. Atholton (3-1) LW: 6
7. Broadneck (3-2) LW: 7
8. St. Stephens/St. Agnes (5-0) LW: 9
9. Walter Johnson (2-0) LW: 10
10. Fairfax (5-2) LW: 4
Records through Tuesday
Bubble: Mount Hebron (5-0), Herndon (7-1)