Before taking over as field hockey coach at St. Mary's Ryken this season, Tara Pappas knew about the program only what those familiar with it had told her: The Knights, who usually finish in the middle of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference standings, were bound for a rebuilding year after losing eight starters.

But Pappas, who played at national powerhouse Maryland, didn't like the prospect of rebuilding. She told her players that, and they responded. Through Tuesday, St. Mary's Ryken (8-3, 4-1 WCAC) was in a three-way tie for the league lead.

Pappas has made changes with an eye toward the future -- such as rotating junior Liz Wathen in with all-conference goalie Jenny Chesser to give her game experience -- but she has otherwise coached with a sense of immediacy. Pappas said the biggest difference was changing the team's culture, specifically improving the Knights' practice habits.

"What I always tell them is to practice like you play," Pappas said. "That means pushing yourself, not going through the motions. You have to practice like someone is chasing you. Everyone's idea of game speed is different, so I had to teach them that playing at their level is one thing, but they had to try and beat that."

New Role for Calvert Senior

Calvert Coach Bridget Lojacono had no misconceptions heading into this season. With only one senior on the roster, she knew she would be forced to develop her young players rather than contend for a league title. But she was concerned about how that one senior -- forward Monica Wynn -- would handle the adjustment.

Wynn, an All-Extra selection, was accustomed to a certain level of play. She played highly competitive club ball during the offseason and helped lead Calvert to the 2A South regional semifinal last season.

"I knew coming in she could possibly have a hard time because it is a huge difference this season," Lojacono said.

Opponents immediately recognized Wynn as Calvert's biggest threat, and at times she has faced triple-teams. But despite the added attention, Wynn has scored a team-high 13 goals and has helped Calvert (4-5, 4-2 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference through Tuesday) remain competitive in conference play.

Just as important, Wynn has played an integral role in the development of her younger teammates, helping familiarize them with Lojacono's system, leading drills and assuming a vocal leadership role during games.

"She has adjusted well. She's been a big leader, teaching the girls everything she knows, and she's doing it much better than I thought she would," Lojacono said. "It's not like she's being a ball hog. We don't play to give the ball to Monica or anything. We work on her passing to everybody, and that's why when we do score, everyone's getting involved."

Huntingtown's Quick Rise

Huntingtown, whose second-year program has its first senior class, is developing into one of the league's better programs.

The Hurricanes (3-3, 2-2) notched a key victory over Great Mills at the start of the season and lost by only a goal in consecutive games against conference front-runners Northern and Patuxent.

Having pooled players from traditional league powers Northern, Patuxent and Calvert, the skill level was apparent in most of Huntingtown's players, Coach Sara Shendock said. Now the Hurricanes are meshing.

"Overall the atmosphere has changed," Shendock said. "The girls want it more, and they're working for it. They know what to expect, having seen my expectations from last year."

Above is first-year St. Mary's Ryken coach Tara Pappas, and at right is goalie Jenny Chesser. The team is tied for the league lead despite losing eight starters from last season.