Good Counsel field hockey players had an unusual cheer after their win at Bishop Ireton last month.

“Milkshakes! Milkshakes!”

The team makes a “no-sweets” pledge during the season, but the Falcons’ coaching staff offered an exception as special motivation before the crucial Washington Catholic Athletic Conference match Sept. 18. After a 3-1 victory, players delighted at the chance to indulge their sweet tooth. One cheat day won’t hurt too much, right?

That milkshakes have become such a rare treat is a testament to Good Counsel’s whole-body approach to fitness. The season started with a presentation by a nutritionist, and players received packets to help them separate the good sugars (such as those found in fruits) from the bad (cakes and candy bars).

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“We really focus on nutrition and being the healthiest versions of ourselves to help us play better and be better teammates,” senior Cheryl Krizmanich said. “And it’s a challenge, me being a sweets addict myself.”

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To satisfy her cravings, Krizmanich turns to fruit bars — “I get them from Costco and I swear they taste just like Fruit Roll-Ups, but they’re all natural” — and dried mango slices. Senior Jessica Moore relies on smoothies, and senior Lauren Gerold eats almond butter for breakfast every morning.

“Being off sugar and sweets really helps me mentally and physically,” Gerold said. “It keeps me in shape and really makes me feel better.”

Good Counsel Coach Kelly Massino brought the “no-sweets” rule with her when she started as the varsity coach in 2016. Massino borrowed it from her high school coach at Springbrook, Kearney Blandamer, who also gave Massino her first coaching job in 2010 as an assistant at her alma mater.

Massino extends the dietary challenge to herself during the season, depriving herself of, most painfully, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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The fourth-year coach is a certified yoga instructor as well as a physical education teacher at Good Counsel, and she organized a yoga session for the Falcons last month to further promote a healthy lifestyle.

“Everything we do really [makes] us better as a team,” Gerold said. “It really helps us connect on more of a spiritual level; you can see that on the field.”

The Falcons’ 6-6 record thus far does not stand out, but the defending WCAC champions have battled through a tough schedule, including lopsided losses to Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland powerhouses Spalding and Garrison Forest.

The win against Ireton solidified Good Counsel as a top team in the WCAC ahead of a showdown at St. John’s on Thursday. The rivals have met in the championship game each of the past five seasons. The Cadets had won three in a row before the Falcons’ 2-1 double-overtime win last year.

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Good Counsel players and coaches believe their physical fitness and discipline, both honed by their “no-sweets” pledge, can help them to another championship season.

Their conditioning showed against Ireton. The Cardinals dominated the first 10 minutes, culminating in a goal to give them a 1-0 lead, but the Falcons outlasted them. After Ireton’s early strike, Good Counsel responded with relentless pressure on the Ireton defense to score three unanswered goals and earn a 3-1 victory.

“It really can benefit not only their athletic performance but their brain function, their sleep schedule, their energy levels, and I can see that when we play,” Massino said.

Yet despite Good Counsel’s pride in its healthy eating, Massino is under no illusion that every player toes the line at all times.

“They absolutely cheat, but they do think about it consciously, and that’s what I want,” Massino said. “I want them to be thinking about what is best for them and best for the team.”

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