One of the things Mount Hebron Coach Jeannette Ireland wanted most this season for what she termed a "fun" and "special" group of field hockey players was to take them to a state championship game. Ireland, who has coached the Vikings for 16 years, has been there three times in that span, losing to area powerhouse Bethesda-Chevy Chase in 1997, 1999 and 2001.

But this season, which began with 12 consecutive victories and saw the Vikings win their second straight county championship, ended in heartbreak the same way it did in 2004: The Vikings lost to another of the Washington area's best squads -- Severna Park -- in a bid to make the 3A state final four.

The 4-1 loss last week was disappointing, but Ireland said she felt this season's team was greatly improved from the 2004 squad and was not intimidated by playing on the Falcons' field.

"We were very confident, and we were very confident in each other," said Ireland, who has a career record of 157-63-16 at Mount Hebron. "There were no nerves and no 'Oh my gosh, this is Severna Park.' Last year we were much more nervous. These kids were ready. They knew what they had to do, and it was a matter of executing."

Senior Sarah Cates, who also plays for the Mount Hebron girls' lacrosse team, which has won nine straight state championships, said she wished the field hockey players could experience the exhilaration of going to a state title game -- in front of a huge crowd under the lights at a college stadium. The 3A title game will be played Tuesday night at the University of Maryland.

"I think that to be able to do something like that in field hockey and not only in lacrosse would have been great," said Cates, a four-year varsity player. "To prove that another sport for Mount Hebron was on that [premier] level would have been amazing. . . . And to prove Severna Park wrong would have been really cool. But we tried our best."

The Vikings' season ended short of the state tournament, but one of the season's top moments, Ireland said, was winning the Garrison Forest tournament in early September with victories over Baltimore's Maryvale Prep and Harford County power Fallston (which will play Northern in a 3A state semifinal). The Vikings play in that tournament every year but had never before won it.

"It would have been nice to finish it at [Universtiy of] Maryland," Ireland said. "We discussed that. That was a real goal for them."

On the bus ride home from the Severna Park loss, Cates told her teammates that "they played so well together. There were no 'could have, should have, would haves.' "

There was, however, one missing victory -- one that Cates badly wanted to earn for Mount Hebron's longtime coach.

"The best feeling would have been to make Jeannette proud. She really wanted it, and we all wanted it for her."