Practice makes Quince Orchard a contender -- Gazette.Net






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Two summers ago, Quince Orchard High School’s Jessica Zhang came into tryouts without any field hockey experience. She would make the junior varsity team, but that wasn’t enough for the then-sophomore.

So after every practice, she said, “I would sit down and go over everything in my head that coach [Alicia Vincenty] told me, and go into my backyard and practice like crazy. That was a big goal that I wanted to make [varsity].”

The plan worked as Zhang, now a senior at the Gaithersburg school, moved up to varsity that postseason, and has since developed into a steady defender on one of Montgomery County’s top teams. Last season, she helped the Cougars go 11-6, improving on their 4-9-1 record in the previous year.

Zhang credited Vincenty, now a second-year varsity coach, for helping her develop into a consistent player.

“She played a big role,” Zhang said. “Her teaching skills were so innovative. She pushed you as hard as you can go.”

Vincenty, a Quince Orchard graduate (Class of 2008) was named The Gazette’s 2013 Coach of the Year last season.

“I don’t think it had to do as much with me as it did with the kids,” Vincenty said. “They had so much heart and they were so coachable that everything I said, they did. It made my job so much easier.”

Zhang is one of the four seniors that Vincenty anticipates will carry the Cougars this upcoming season. The other three — Laney Rubenstein, Brooke Saffer and Brenna Lofgren — have been starting since they were sophomores, Vincenty said.

Quince Orchard won 11 of its final 14 games last season, losing to Sandy Spring’s Sherwood, 2-1, in the 4A West Region championship.

“I think there’s always room for improvement,” said Saffer, a midfielder. “Last year we got the region finals and the goal is definitely to redeem ourselves and come back and win.”

Elsewhere in Montgomery County

Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton went 16-1 last season, reaching the 4A state championship for the first time in more than three decades. Though there will be some new faces — about half of its starting lineup graduated — coach Kearney Blandamer said the Patriots have a talented returning core that includes senior Julia Lee (All-Gazette honorable mention), junior Rachel Maizel (second team) and junior Lacey Rubin.

“Different teams and different players are going to emerge,” Blandamer said. “... Hopefully we’re going to be able to adjust to what our opponents throw at us and just bring our best game every week.”

Bethesda-Chevy Chase hung around with Maryland’s best teams last season, but when it needed scoring, it could never get it. The Barons went 9-7 season and reached the region final, where it was defeated by Wootton 1-0 — that was their fifth 1-0 defeat and their seventh shutout loss of the season. “I think that offensively, we’ll just need to start clicking to put it together. But the talent is there,” B-CC coach Morgan Kauffman said.

Olney’s Our Lady of Good Counsel is looking to defend its Washington Catholic Athletic Conference crown after defeating rival Academy of the Holy Cross (Kensington) in the finals.

The Falcons graduate 12 seniors but return several key players, including fourth-year varsity goalie Caroline Campbell.

“We have a solid core,” Theda Bagdon said. “... The girls have a better idea of fitness and where the game is going.”

Look for Bethesda’s Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart to make a run at an Independent School League championship after losing to St. Stephens/St. Agnes (Va.) in the finals last season.

Holton-Arms School (Bethesda) and Bullis (Potomac) reached the ISL semifinals.