Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Local field hockey teams prepare for first faceoff

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Good Counsel had its bid for a third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference field hockey title denied last season by a penalty corner goal after the second-half clock struck zero.

Looking to leave no doubt in its preparation for another WCAC championship run, Good Counsel co-coaches Kelly Stodter and Kristin Ramsey have compiled an ambitious schedule that includes county public-school heavyweights Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Quince Orchard along with private-school powers St. Stephen’s⁄St. Agnes (Va.) and St. Paul’s.

‘‘We’re looking for trouble,” joked Stodter, whose team went 8-0 during regular-season league play in 2006. ‘‘We want to win the championship again. To do that, we feel like we have to be challenged every single game.”

The Falcons (14-2-1 in 2006) graduated one of the county’s best players in Ashley Stodter but return a slew of talent, including captains Julianne Grothe (14 goals, 6 assists in 2006), Mary Swarthout (4 goals, 5 assists), Lauren Wilson (6 goals, 2 assists) and Mary Kuzma.

‘‘I’m pretty confident we can compete [for the WCAC crown] with who we have,” Stodter said. ‘‘We’ve added a lot of athletes from other sports. We reloaded.”

Blake, the county’s surprise team a year ago, hopes to reload as well and continue last year’s 11-win campaign that featured a trip to the 4A South Region final. It will have to do so despite losing the team’s top two players in Molly Wannen and Sammy Allen, who produced 18 regular-season goals, to graduation.

‘‘The strength of this team is their ability to work well together,” Bengals coach Janis Maloney said. ‘‘We are coming into the season with a much more balanced attack. Along with our solid group of midfielders, I think the team will have another successful year.”

Senior co-captains Ella Branson and Marisa Hassani and junior Darin Murray comprise that talented midfield line, while junior forward Sharon Metzger could be the team’s top scorer.

Joining those veterans will be junior midfielder Gaby Ferra and sophomore forward Justine Allen, who are up from the junior-varsity squad.

Paint Branch also had a strong season a year ago, producing a 7-7 record that included a playoff win over Seneca Valley before falling to Class 3A state finalist Bethesda-Chevy Chase. Nine seniors return from that squad but the Panthers lack overall experience and depth with only 15 players on the preseason roster.

‘‘We have a couple of girls who decided not to play this year,” Paint Branch coach Dan Feher said. ‘‘That’s disappointing. We were hoping to have stronger numbers. We’re looking to create the bond of the team and play with what we have.”

Senior Molly Hubscher returns in goal for the third year and will be joined by returning starter Kim Hession, a senior midfielder. Senior midfielder Bonnie Brady and junior midfielder⁄defender Kayla Stone will also be key contributors.

A year after producing one of its best seasons in recent memory, Einstein slipped below the .500 mark at 3-9, a five-match swing in the wrong direction from the team’s impressive 2005 campaign. The decline was a combination of an ineffective offense against the county’s better squads and the forfeiture of games because of the use of ineligible players.

‘‘We have a young team this year but they are very aggressive,” said Titans coach Suzanne Murray, whose top players are senior midfielder Andrea Castilla, senior forward Mallory McMillan and sophomore forward Angela Neely. ‘‘We will look to get more shots off this year and hope to increase scoring.”

That better scoring punch will have to come without the graduated Madelyn Giblin, who led the Titans with eight goals and six assists last year.

Springbrook saw nearly all of its starting lineup leave via graduation, leaving just Shannon Connolly and Rachel Browning as returning starters from a team that went 10-4 a year ago and split a county division title.

‘‘We have a total of four seniors on the team this year after graduating 13 seniors from last year’s team,” Blue Devils coach Kearney Francis said.

Filling in the holes created by those departures are junior-varsity call-ups Mirielle Encarnacion (midfielder), Jessica Sawadogo (defender), Ebony Turner (attack) and Niani Mimms (attack) and junior midfielder Ferin Richardson, who transferred in from St. John’s (D.C.).

‘‘The two great strengths on this team are chemistry and coachability,” Francis said. ‘‘They’re very willing to work hard and learn. The girls have to become acclimated to the varsity pace of hockey, since many are up from JV, however, they have good speed and are quick and eager learners who are determined to improve. We expect a great season from them.”

Magruder finds itself in similar circumstances, losing a strong nucleus of seniors, including All-Gazette first-team selection Kristie Blumer (18 goals, 8 assists). The Colonels cupboard is not bare, however, with 10 seniors ready to step in and continue the winning tradition Magruder coach Kathleen Mulholland has established, including a 12-4 season a year ago.

‘‘We lost a dynamic group,” Mulholland said. ‘‘They have some big shoes to fill but I think they can do it. I think we’ll be competitive.”

Those filling the voids will be seniors Kerri Wallis, Christina Graham-Yooll, Devin Crone and Taryn Queen, junior Elena Diestle and sophomore goalkeeper Zia Frazier.

After years of hardship and numerous losses on the field, Kennedy compiled a promising 4-7-1 record a year ago under then-first-year coach Jaime Ambrosio, who hopes for more improvement this season through the leadership of eight returning seniors.

Blair coach Brook Franceschini hopes a strong summer of work will help her squad improve on last year’s 4-8 season.

‘‘I am very enthusiastic about how well the team came back, in regards to their fitness level,” said Franceschini, who was forced to coach the junior-varsity team this preseason as well because it did not have a JV coach. ‘‘The girls worked very hard by attending Future Stars Camp and working on a club team throughout the season, getting into leagues and playing year round. The team seems to be collaborating well and communicating.”

Leading Blair’s resurgence will be Eve Kenney, Clair Onley, Helen Anderson, Elsa Haag and Julia Stratton, the team’s top returning players. The top newcomers are Katelyn Luker, Nellie Garlow and Maddy Ruvolo. Luker will mind the goal, replacing the graduated Maura Druhan.

Wheaton coach Kim Pabst finds herself in the midst of a rebuilding campaign with the graduation of 10 seniors, who left on the heels of a 2-13 record. That means several players from last year’s junior varsity, who compiled a 3-9 mark, will man key positions this fall.

Those newcomers will be joined by returning starter Kim Taylor, a senior forward, and Imini Johnson, a junior goalkeeper.

Former junior-varsity coach Katie Parsons takes over at Northwood, which struggled to a 0-13 record a year ago, while allowing over 80 goals in its return to varsity play in 2006. ‘‘This is a great group of girls who work hard and work very well as a team,” said Parsons, whose squad will be led by Jennifer Thompson, Brittney Spear and Heather McWilliams. ‘‘I am very excited to see what the season will bring.”

FAST FACTS

Blair Blazers

Head coach: Brook Franceschini, 4th year

Last year’s record: 4-8

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Eve Kenney (Sr., M), Clair Onley (Sr., D), Helen Anderson (Sr., D), Elsa Haag (Jr., F)

Blake Bengals

Head coach: Janis Maloney, 2nd year (11-4 record)

Last year’s record: 11-4

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Ella Branson (Sr., M), Marisa Hassani (Sr., M), Darin Murray (Jr., M) Sharon Metzger (Jr., F)

Einstein Titans

Head coach: Suzanne Murray, 4th year (16-22 record)

Last year’s record: 3-9

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Andrea Castilla (Sr., M), Mallory McMillan (Sr., F), Angela Neely (So., F)

Good Counsel Falcons

Co-head coaches: Kelly Stodter and Kristin Ramsey, 3rd year (33-16-2 record)

Last year’s record: 14-2-1, 8-0 in the WCAC

League affiliation: Washington Catholic Athletic Conference

Last league title: 2005

Players to watch: Julianne Grothe (Jr., M⁄F), Mary Kuzma (Sr., F), Mary Swarthout (Sr., M⁄F), Lauren Wilson (Sr., F):

Northwood Gladiators

Head coach: Katie Parsons, 1st year

Last year’s record: 0-13

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Jennifer Thompson (Jr., M⁄F), Brittney Spear (Jr., F), Heather McWilliams (Sr., GK)

Paint Branch Panthers

Head coach: Dan Feher, 3rd year (12-15 record)

Last year’s record: 7-7

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Molly Hubscher (Sr., GK), Kim Hession (Sr., MF), Kayla Stone (Jr., MF⁄D), Bonnie Brady (Sr., MF)

Springbrook Blue Devils

Head coach: Kearney Francis, 8th year (61-27-2 record)

Last year’s record: 10-4

Last state title: 2003 (1st)

Players to watch: Shannon Connolly (Sr., MF⁄F), Rachel Browning (Jr., D), Mirielle Encarnacion (Jr., MF), Jessica Sawadogo (Soph., D)

Wheaton Knights

Head coach: Kim Pabst, 3rd year

Last year’s record: 2-13

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Kim Taylor (Sr., F), Imini Johnson (Jr., GK)