Severna Park sophomore Abbi Horn's family has won six field hockey state championships. Horn, the fourth of five girls, didn't add to the collection this fall, as the Falcons lost to Fallston in the 3A East Region final for the second straight year.
Still, Horn's team is doing something her sisters' squads didn't. Severna Park is competing in the National Hockey Festival, the biggest amateur tournament in the nation, which begins today at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. It is the first time Severna Park is sending a full team; players previously competed for a spot on Team Maryland, made up of players from schools throughout the state. This year, seniors Mandy Bathras and Jen King of Chesapeake and Jan Lee of Annapolis are on that squad.
"We're starting a [team] trend for the years to come," Horn said of Severna Park's decision to send its own team. "I think it's important. We were the first team to start playing indoor field hockey and we went to nationals and did well. In 2001, we were the national under-14 team. When we do this, maybe teams afterward will do it, too."
For Horn, one of 14 Severna Park players making the trip under the team name SPark, it will be a family affair. Her father, Milt, is coaching the team, and her oldest sister, Sarah, will play in the women's open. Her youngest sister, 13-year-old Claire, is coming to watch.
Although girls from Severna Park have qualified for Team Maryland in the past, none of the girls on this year's SPark team have been to this tournament. Anyone who is registered with United States Field Hockey can take a team, but it's first come, first served.
"When they tried out for Team Maryland, the first year I had five, the next year I had four," Severna Park Coach Lil Shelton said. "You can't expect a lot of your team members to make [Team Maryland] because there are hundreds of girls who try out from all over the state. I had this dad who said instead of having two or three, why don't I take whoever wants to go off the team because his daughter plays.
"Yeah, why would I not like that? Fourteen of my kids are going out to play together and have fun and see California and what an outstanding experience it's going to be. They're going to be tried and tested out there because like Team Maryland, it's the best of kids who tried out, but it's going to be so much fun and they'll come back with all this renewed enthusiasm."
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association prohibits Shelton from coaching the team, and she will not make the trip.
The tournament, which runs until Dec. 1, features almost 200 teams from all over the world and is divided into several age groups. Severna Park will play seven games in the under-19 bracket. It's similar to the All-Star Express event in lacrosse, in that it's a major showcase for college recruiting.
"This is a really big deal as far as that goes," junior defender Lauren Maranto said. "I've started looking at a few colleges but nothing really serious yet because I really want to see how this trip goes."
Some of the girls have experienced a higher level of competition with the Severna Park indoor team, but nothing of this caliber outdoors. Last year, Team Maryland won two games.
The girls are aware the tournament will be tough, but said they're going for the experience.
"We're going to learn a lot," junior midfielder Stacey Messick said. "We're going to play high-skilled teams and we'll be challenged. We all want to do really well, sort of to make up for the season. Our idea is to have fun and do our best."