SMAC field hockey teams hampered by ‘cow pasture’ fields and referee shortage

The 1-0 victory against Huntingtown Tuesday was far from the easiest win of the season for Leonardtown. It was a relief, however, for the Raiders to play a match on the Hurricanes’ well-kept Bermuda grass. Coaches in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference often deal with overgrown and uneven fields when playing teams in Charles, St. Mary’s or Calvert Counties.

The SMAC sent three teams to region finals last year, but the players aren’t always prepared for the fast-paced turf game that dominates the postseason. Other playoff contenders such as nearby Anne Arundel County have feeder programs and field quality that give them an advantage in statewide competition.

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“Two years ago, we went into semifinals and into double overtime and I think we shocked the other team that we even hung in there,” said Huntingtown Coach Shannon Persetic of a 2011 1-0 loss to Mount Hebron. “I can’t ask for much more, but on sports turf like that, those girls were dead tired. They’re not used to that.”

Persetic and Leonardtown Coach Mia Finkelston both compared some of the designated field hockey fields around the conference to “cow pastures.” High grass makes it harder to move the ball, and teams such as Leonardtown, which play on the stadium field, are dealing with overused grass and contributing divots of their own.

Once a maintained field is secured, the next step in the area is making sure qualified referees are available to officiate. Finkelston said local officials had told her that the referees this year are very short-staffed and that the conference was in danger of having no officials to officiate some of this season’s games. The Raiders’ Sept. 10 game against Patuxent (4-0-1) was rescheduled to Oct. 5 because of the availability of officials.

A lack of resources on the official level is echoed in the scarcity of feeder programs and even junior varsity teams. The Southern Maryland Eliminators are trying to keep players in the conference for club teams, but Finkelston said many area players still make the commute to Crofton to play on Anne Arundel County teams. Great Mills (1-2-1) only had enough players to field a seven-on-seven game against Huntingtown, and Thomas Stone (0-4) , McDonough (0-5) and Westlake (1-4) will not field junior varsity teams this season.

The decrease in players could be because of lack of interest, or perhaps because of an increased need in after-school jobs or unavailability of parents to take off work to pick up players given the current economy.

The factors working against SMAC field hockey teams don’t hold them back from getting into playoffs, but can cause another issue.

“As a coach I’ve learned that it’s tough on these girls to play easier teams and then go to playoffs,” Finkelston said. “When they get there, they’re scared rather than excited.”

Teaching is mission at W.T. Woodson

When W.T. Woodson senior Alex Lightfoot picked up a field hockey stick for the first time as a seventh grader, she wasn’t eyeing a long-term future in the sport.

“I didn’t really think that I was going to keep it up,” Lightfoot said. “I was pretty much doing it for stick skills for lacrosse.”

Lightfoot hasn’t just endured; she’s excelled. She was a first-team all-district selection in the Patriot as a junior, and helms the Cavaliers (3-2) this season as a co-captain.

While Lightfoot’s skills are unique, her story is not uncommon. Cavaliers Coach Meg Jarrell estimates that more than half of her squad plays a primary sport other than hockey. And she doesn’t discourage it.

“Honestly, I want them to play other sports,” Jarrell said. “Their lacrosse skills are helpful on the field hockey field. Their soccer skills are really helpful for field vision.”

A soccer injury put senior Logan Darr’s career in jeopardy. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during the spring of her sophomore year but has worked her way back to become part of Woodson’s mix in 2013.

Darr says she recovered at a blistering pace — running again after only four months — but relegated herself to the sidelines during her junior hockey season as a player assistant.

That stint, during which she kept an open eye and toiled at her stick skills, is starting to pay off.

“You can see so many more things from watching the game, and I’m a visual person,” Darr said.

She tallied two assists in Woodson’s 3-0 win over West Potomac Tuesday.

Darr’s experience with field hockey prior to high school consisted of one skills camp her mother forced her to attend leading up to freshman tryouts.

“If I had started early, I probably could have been much better,” she said.

The lack of hockey tread on players’ tires disadvantages them even more because it’s a sport that comes complete with a set of complicated and nuanced rules.

“In previous years, we haven’t really known a lot of the rules even halfway through the season,” Lightfoot said.

But Jarrell — whose Cavaliers have already doubled up on district wins compared to 2012 — knows these girls are already talented athletes, if not field hockey players.

“A lot of these girls have been playing soccer since they were eight, they’ve been playing lacrosse since they were eight, and they picked up field hockey a little later on,” she said. “We try to get ’em as early as we can.”

Rankings: The Post Top 10

Severna Park went 1-1 in two top 10 matches in three days, falling to Westfield 1-0 and beating rival South River, 2-0. . . . Glenelg scored two goals in the second half to win at Atholton, 3-2. . . . St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes remains the only ranked team without a loss. . . .

Herndon moves into the rankings on the strength of its eight-game win streak.

1. South River (6-1) LW: 1

2. Glenelg (5-2) LW: 3

3. South County (7-2) LR:4

4. Westfield (8-2) LW: 5

5. Severna Park (4-1) LW: 4

6. Broadneck (5-2) LW: 7

7. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (7-0)

8. Atholton (4-2) LW: 6

9. Walter Johnson (4-0) LW: 9

10. Herndon (9-1) LW: NR

Bubble: Fairfax (6-3), Sherwood (6-0), Mount Hebron (7-0-1)

 
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