Shannon O’Hearn remembers the first time she saw her younger sister Cassidy play field hockey.
An eighth grader who hadn’t shown many signs of inheriting much athleticism — “I’m not a swimmer,” joked Cassidy, now a junior at Springbrook High School — she was “ditzy” and carefree on the field, not a ferocious competitor such as Shannon.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man Cassidy. What is she doing?’” said Shannon, 19, now a sophomore at Catholic University.
If Shannon couldn’t help her sister tap the underlying aggressive nature that runs in the O’Hearn blood, Jenna Ries could. Ries, coach of the Jackals club team and four-time-defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion Academy of the Holy Cross, is “honestly the best coach I’ve ever had,” Shannon said. “She doesn’t hold anything back. If she knows you can do better, she’ll tell you that you can do better.”
For the O’Hearn sisters, “always so competitive,” Shannon says, “we always just wanted to prove we could do better.”
Under Ries’ fiery guidance, a phenomenon struck Cassidy that had eluded her in every other sport she tried: She could seriously play.
“[Field hockey] came more natural to me,” Cassidy said. “It’s a sport that you’re never the best at. There’s always going to be somebody better. I’m a really competitive person so once something came natural to me I wanted to be the best.”
The next time Shannon saw her younger sister play, Cassidy was a freshman on Springbrook’s junior varsity team with sprinter’s speed and stick skills that belied her inexperience. Shannon could hardly recognize her.
“I was really surprised,” she said. “[Cassidy] worked really hard. She was in really good shape, able to blow by everyone, had really good field vision, she was more vocal. It was kind of a whole new person.”
By the time playoffs rolled around, Cassidy had been promoted to the varsity team and Shannon was able finish her final high school season alongside her younger sister.
“I loved playing with her,” said Shannon, who gave up field hockey after a year at Catholic in order to concentrate on her studies as a pre-med major.
The last time Shannon watched Cassidy was a 2011 playoff loss to Severna Park. Since then, Cassidy’s “whole new person,” has been replaced again by a field hockey player on an entirely different level.
In Springbrook’s first test of the season, a Sept. 5 matchup with Thomas S. Wootton, Cassidy assisted the first goal to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead and tucked in the second to knot the game at 2-2. The contest was halted with a little more than 18 minutes remaining due to lightning.
Five days later, in a 13-0 rout against Northwood, even with Blue Devil coach Kelly Massino “calling off the dogs” with plenty of time left on the clock, Cassidy scored five times added five assists.
“Cassidy puts herself in a good scoring position,” Massino said. “One of my biggest things I try to teach my team is that field hockey isn't an individual sport, it’s a team sport and no matter how hard one person plays, the whole team is the reason for the win or loss outcome. Cassidy has a great field sense and knows where to be at the right time to slam the ball into the cage.”
Her offensive output has been aided by midfielder Colleen Connolly, one of just two seniors on an experience-starved Springbrook team who has led the Blue Devils in assists in each of her varsity seasons.
Connolly assisted both goals against Wootton and had a goal and two assists against Northwood. The two Blue Devil captains grew up together, playing on the same team since Cassidy first picked up a stick.
“We have really good chemistry,” Cassidy said. “Definitely in the Northwood game we found our rhythm. We picked up the intensity and we had really good give-and-go’s. It wasn’t just her scoring or me scoring, it was pass, back, pass, back, then score.”
Their close-knit friendship almost cost the Blue Devils the tying goal against Wootton. With the ball rebounding off a Connolly shot, Cassidy hesitated before putting her stick on it.
“I was trying to let Colleen have it,” she said.
The pause was brief and inconsequential and she pounded it in, ultimately preventing a Springbrook loss.
“I had to take it for the team,” she said distastefully, as if the goal was some painstaking homework assignment.
Cassidy had the team’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Walt Whitman and then contributed on all three goals in a shutout of Richard Montgomery, assisting the first and scoring the next two.
It’s ironic how Massino describes her now — “deadly” — when just four years ago Shannon was labeling her as “ditzy.”
That Cassidy is long gone.