There’s a change going on at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and it doesn’t have to do with an Olympic swimmer named Katie Ledecky. This is on grass, where the Gators are making a convincing case to be the top field hockey team in the Independent School League.
It would be a seismic shift in a conference that has handed St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes 10 of its past 11 tournament titles, but one that, given Stone Ridge’s upstart success, should hardly be considered a surprise.
This fall, Stone Ridge has tied Walter Johnson, one of the top public school teams in Montgomery County boasting the most prized player in the area. It took the Gators until just Oct. 8 to match last season’s win total (six), and two weeks prior to that they topped five-time defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion Academy of the Holy Cross for the first time in quite a while, according to coach Apitchaya Pimpawathin.
“That was awesome,” said speedy right wing Samantha Taskey, who is fourth on the team in goals scored (three). “We went into that game so pumped and we were like, ‘We just got to beat them, we can do it. Let’s just go into it.’ We had nothing to lose and I think that made a lot of teams afraid to play us. That was big.”
Holy Cross is just one of a few teams that has had Stone Ridge’s number for awhile prior to this season before the Gators suddenly flipped the script. National Cathedral was no different than the Tartans, and Stone Ridge dealt the Eagles a 2-1 loss for its first win of the season.
“I think it’s about building a serious program here at Stone Ridge,” Pimpawathin said. “I think our reputation is changing in the league. I think that people know that we are serious and a very strong program now.”
There are many things that can be attributed to the uptick in tallies on the left side of the ledger for Stone Ridge. The most notable, however, is the absence of change at all. Despite graduating a pretty heavy senior class last year, Stone Ridge added just two new faces to the roster, keeping a tight-knit group that needed no early-season introductions. This has led to a senior-laden back line, anchored by sophomore goalie Mary Feller, that’s allowing less than one goal per game and has let up just eight goals all season. On the flip side, center midfielder Kallie Drewyer has quarterbacked three games with at least four goals in the past six contests, the most recent being a dominant, 4-0 victory at Holy Child on Friday afternoon, the fourth-ranked Gators’ sixth win in their last seven games.
“We’ve kind of built up our program,” Taskey said. “Sticking with [coach Pimpawathin] really helped, we really learned her coaching style and we’ve been playing together for a while. We have a lot of determination to beat everyone because we know we can.”
It’s not that Stone Ridge has necessarily been bad the past few seasons, but it would have been a mighty surprise had it posed a legitimate challenge to the Saints or Bullis. The Gators went 6-4-2 in 2012 but lost by a combined 5-0 in two meetings with St. Stephen’s. This season, it would be equally surprising if the Oct. 24 clash between the two isn’t decided by one goal, as five other games have been for Stone Ridge.
“I think that over the years, Stone Ridge has really made an effort to build a stronger program and I think that this is — this season really showcased that,” Pimpawathin said. “I’ve had most of the girls now for three or four years and I think this is where we’re finally putting all of our fundamental skills and building on that into fruition.”
ISL playoffs are scheduled to begin on Oct. 30, just two days after Stone Ridge expects to host Bullis on senior night. Drewyer couldn’t recall the last time the tournament trophy was hoisted by a Gator. Neither could Taskey nor Nora Gosselin, who posted a hat trick against Holy Child. Given St. Stephen’s impeccable track record, all three of them settled on the Saints as the favorites heading into the conference tournament.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” Drewyer said.