This week, Ken Humphreys became a permanent resident of the United States. He also hoped to take another step toward making something else permanent: the success of Notre Dame Academy's field hockey team.

Humphreys, in his second year as coach after migrating from England, where he lived in the western county of Shropshire, has led a remarkable turnaround for the Lady Dragons. Notre Dame played St. James in the Melville Church Athletic Conference championship match on Friday after going 1-11 last year.

"I expected a big turnaround, but certainly not something this big," Humphreys said.

Last season's record does not fully show how far Notre Dame (11-1-1) had fallen. The Lady Dragons were outscored 36-3 and at times had fewer than 11 players on the field because team turnout was so low.

Taking into account their 3-0 win over Highland School on Thursday in the MCAC semifinals, the Lady Dragons this season have outscored their opponents by more than 20 goals. Most of their players returned this season, and two newcomers who may have more lasting field hockey aspirations have also stood out.

Senior forward Katherine Thomas, a soccer player at the school and one of the leaders offensively, decided to come out for the team for the first time because some of her friends were playing, and Humphreys is overjoyed that Thomas did.

"She can run as fast with the ball as without it," he said. "I couldn't ask her to play a better game."

Thomas is now considering playing in college and has been impressed with the response from the school.

"Last year nobody came out to watch the field hockey team," she said. "Now we're getting big crowds. We have girls who don't play talking about coming out for the team next year. . . . It's been awesome."

Freshman defender Meaghan Eicher this year is playing the sport for the first time. She joined the team because she is taking a second language at the school and needs to play sports all three seasons to make up for missed gym class. She's now a starter, and Humphreys calls her a defensive leader.

"In the beginning, I felt like I was just learning how to hit and stuff," Eicher said. "But most of the girls on the team said I was doing really good. I've been surprised with myself and surprised with how well the team is doing."

Eicher said she plans on returning to the team next year.

The Lady Dragons are set up for a berth in the state playoffs as well. Ranked sixth in the most recent Virginia Independent School Athletic Association Division II poll, Notre Dame had "no chance" of dropping below the eighth and final postseason spot, according to Humphreys. The state tournament begins Nov. 8.

Katherine Thomas (6) and Notre Dame are through to the state playoffs.