At first glance, the practice field of the Severna Park High School field hockey team looks the same.
Girls in pinnies are running around the field, sticks in hand, passing the ball back in forth—mastering the backhand and perfecting the simple art of passing. But if you look closer one thing is obviously different.
Veteran coach Lil Shelton is nowhere to be found. And a new coach, Ann Andrews, stands in her place.
After 37 seasons, 546 career wins, and 20 state titles, Shelton decided to retire—and Andrews stepped in.
“It's a pretty easy transition because we have all been here before,” Andrews said. “The kids knew what to expect and we knew what we wanted to do. We sat and talked about any changes we wanted to make and all the things we want to keep the same—there are so many things we want to keep the same.”
It comes as no surprise that the organization that has made winning seem natural plans to continue with their success even with a new leader.
The team won the Maryland 4A field hockey championship last year against Bethesda-Chevy Chase and hopes to be back in the spotlight come November.
“We are hoping to go all the way,” said senior Taylor Anspach. “It would be really nice, especially with having a new coach, and it be nice to show Shelton we can still do it.”
A Shaky Start
Andrews points out that winning isn’t as easy as it used to be. The county competition has gotten tougher and the Falcons already suffered their first loss of the season. They fell 2-1 to rival Broadneck on Tuesday.
“I would think we have the same expectations, but I think the difference is in the last couple of years the level of hockey in this county has gone up,” Andrews said. “So the competition is tough, and it has been for a number of years. South River and Broadneck have been good. So it is not like Severna Park is the oddity where they are the only powerhouse in the county.”
In the loss to Broadneck, Andrews said the team struggled on offensive penalty corners. She said they had several corners where they didn’t get a shot off, which is something they will need to work on. However, she said the loss takes some of the pressure off.
“I hate to say it, but I am optimistic about losing that game,” Andrews said. “I think it takes that monkey off our back a little bit. Trying to maintain a winning season is hard—so once you lose it takes the pressure off. Maybe I am looking for a silver lining but I kind of feel less pressure today than I did yesterday.”
Cool Under Pressure
Success and pressure often go hand-in-hand. Once you achieve so many wins, anything short of a state title almost becomes a disappointment.
Since 1979, the Severna Park field hockey team has won 20 state titles including eight in the last 11 years, which puts a lot of pressure on a team of teenagers.
“I do think it is hard on them,” Andrews said. “I think it is actually harder on them than it is on us because they feel like they are letting down the girls that were here before them, and they are not living up the legacy they left behind."
Andrews, who has spent over 10 years coaching with Severna Park High School field hockey before becoming head coach, saw first-hand what the pressure can do when the team lost in the semis in 2010.
“We can tell them not to worry, no big deal, but some of them I know they feel the pressure,” she said. “I know they feel it if they don’t do as well as past teams have done—they feel like they are letting others down.”
Legacy, domination, perfection—call it whatever you want but winning is something the members of the Falcon field hockey team take seriously.
The girls also like to honor traditions, not just winning, but all the little things that go into creating a perfect season.
“We have to maintain the tradition of winning,” said senior Adley Beairsto. “And we have even been keeping up with the little traditions we do. Like Sheldon used to give us stickers before every game, and before our first game we still got them.”
When listening to Andrews, it's clear how she feels about her team.
“It’s a great group of girls,” she said. “The entire coaching staff would say we feel very lucky that we get to work with these girls. They are a good crew.”
Girls. With all the talk about pressure it is sometimes hard to remember that’s what they are—16, and 17 year old girls—with a lot of lofty expectations on them. And as the competition gets tougher, the goal of a state title gets harder to achieve.
As Sheldon moves on, Andrews and this year’s team hopeds to live up to the expectations. Now, they all work to put that first loss behind them and focus on the goal at hand.
“It is hard when they are looking at us at the end of the rough game and want some magical words to make it better,” Andrews said. “I am just like ‘It’s OK. We’ll see you tomorrow at practice. We’ll go from there.’”