Though the Severna Park field hockey and girls' soccer teams ended last season in identical fashion -- with a 3A state title -- their coaches approached the subject differently on the first day of practice Saturday.
Field hockey coach Lil Shelton took her 10 seniors for a walk around the school -- something she does before the first practice of every season -- and asked them: "How does it feel to be state champions?"
At the same time, on an adjacent field, girls' soccer coach Gary Lam did not address the team's quest for a record-tying third consecutive state title.
"The first and only time I'll talk about it is when I take one of the shirts we bought for our team that says 'back-to-back state champs' and rip it up in front of them this week," Lam said. "This is not 2003. This is 2004, and what happened last year doesn't affect us right now. We're 0-0 just like every other team."
Shelton and Lam said they never have changed their preseason routine, regardless of how the previous season ended. Shelton, in her 30th year, has guided the Falcons to 14 state titles, including nine in 12 years. Lam, in his fourth season, led the Falcons to their second consecutive state title last fall, marking the first time in 13 years -- and second time overall -- they accomplished such a feat.
The coaches' contrasting philosophies were echoed by their players, who are eager to continue the tradition of two of the state's most successful teams.
"Now, we're the ones leading the pack," senior field hockey midfielder Kim Kral said. "The past two years we've had that pressure of trying to win [a state title], and now that we won one, wanting to win another one pushes us even harder."
"Looking back at last year doesn't do anything to help our team this year," said senior soccer midfielder Melissa Loureiro. "Each year I think you have to look at it like you're starting over."
But this season, neither team is starting from scratch. Both teams are coming off one-loss seasons in which they won county and region titles before claiming state championships. They each graduated three starters, including an All-Met player -- defenseman Lauren Maranto (field hockey) and midfielder Shannon Hadaway (soccer).
"Right now, we're looking to see which players are going to step up and take those spots and who is going to score clutch goals for us," sophomore soccer forward Samantha Young said. "We know we have a lot of things we need to work on."
But one trait that carried over from last year for both teams is that most players have experienced winning -- and winning big. And that might be each team's strength. Each team won't be able to replace the stellar skills of standout players who graduated, but no opponent will have the experience that many of Severna Park's players acquired last fall.
"We know what it takes to win, and that makes a big difference for us," said senior field hockey All-Met forward Abbi Horn, who arrived at the first practice in a T-shirt commemorating the 2003 state title. "Everyone we have back knows how amazing it was to win the state championship last year and wants to experience it again."
Both coaches kept their first day of practices simple -- and similar. Players spent time at stations where they were ranked on different skills as Shelton and Lam began to get ready for the first day of cuts that took place earlier this week.
The members who played junior varsity last year got their first taste of varsity competition, and both coaches began visualizing who would fill voids left by graduation.
"The first few days are the hardest because you are first looking to see who is going to be on the team," Shelton said. "You just hope no players fool you."
Said Lam: "If you rank every player, you know what their strengths are and where they might fit. But even then it's difficult because you need to find where they would best help the team, not what is the best position for them. You can only hope that you make the right decision because there are a handful of teams that are really going to contend for the state title, and we want to be one of them."