For the first time since 2000, two Anne Arundel County schools were crowned field hockey state champions in the same year. Last week on the University of Maryland's pristine turf field, South River won its second 4A title in a row with a 3-0 shutout of Springbrook; the next night, Severna Park -- the Washington area's most decorated field hockey team over the past 30 years -- won its 15th state championship under 31-year head coach Lil Shelton, 2-0, over Fallston from Harford County.
For Severna Park (19-1), the highest praise came from the opposite bench. Fallston Coach Alice Puckett, who has guided the Cougars to nine state titles in 23 years -- fourth-highest behind Shelton, Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Amy Wood (10) and Pocomoke's Sue Pusey (10) -- lauded the Falcons' precision on the field.
"What hurt us is what Severna Park is just so good at: the quick hits," said Puckett. "They just are probably the best finishing team I've ever seen, year in and year out. You've got to give them credit for that because it's just quick shots, hard shots, everything's direct at the goal."
Fallston was the more aggressive team offensively in the first 15 minutes, but that changed dramatically when Severna Park got its first penalty corner and converted it into a score. Sophomore Allison Behringer, whose hard shot was tipped in for the game-winner in last month's county championship, made a perfect pass to senior Amanda Himmelheber, who sent the ball blazing into the cage from 15 yards out. Behringer then took a hard whack of her own midway through the second half from about the same spot, and it was 2-0.
"In the beginning it took a while to get used to the turf, but once we got going we just had so much confidence," said Behringer. "And after the second goal went in, we were like, 'We've got this.' "
One of the game's unsung heroes was defenseman Brittany Zorn. With Fallston trailing by one early in the second half, the Cougars made a few pushes up the field. But the Falcons junior was there on three consecutive occasions to break up the surge, positioning her stick flat on the ground to halt the advancing ball. On one occasion she stopped a ball in front of the Severna Park goal that could have led to a tip-in.
"Stay low, [like] indoor," she said. "This [turf] is really fast. Stay low and get the ball."
After a season of playing on Bermuda grass, Shelton took her girls to Annapolis to practice on the turf at the Naval Academy.
"It's kind of like indoor, and they all play indoor, and we talked about getting their sticks down," said Shelton, who now has 443 victories at Severna Park since 1975.
South River (16-3-1) began the season without three All-County players -- Jill Hodges, who decided not to play this fall, and Shannon Long and Irene Jorden, both of whom graduated -- but showed that the talent rooted in the county's youth field hockey programs is deep.
This season forwards Abigail McNair and newcomer Adrienne Hunt, a transfer from Key School, did much of the scoring, including one goal apiece in the championship game. The junior scorers were complemented by standout midfielders Molly Gregoire and Toni Lee. And Virginia Jorden picked up in goal where sister Irene left off, allowing only two goals in five playoff games.
Two of South River's losses this season came to Severna Park, but first-year coach Katie Corcoran said her team benefited nonetheless.
"Playing that Severna Park county championship game really built our confidence," she said. "Even though we lost in overtime, we did not step down. From that point on [into the playoffs], we did not step down."