Stout Defense Leads Churchill Field Hockey to MPSSAA 4A State Title Game
What a difference one year makes.
In 2015, Churchill's field hockey team finished the regular season a respectable 8-3-1 before being bounced from the playoffs by Richard Montgomery in the first round.
Fast forward to one year later and the Bulldogs find themselves in the MPSSAA 4A state final with a 16-0 record. To head coach Cay Miller, Churchill might not have made it this far without the disappointment that 2015 brought.
"We have the benefit of the experience of last year," Miller said. "Our returning players remember what it was like to be eliminated so early in the playoffs last year, and so they learned to bring all of their focus and energy to each game as it comes."
One area where the team has been exception has been the defense.
The Bulldogs have allowed just four goals all season, which includes a run of conceding one goal in the team's first nine game. Churchill's goal has been breached twice in four playoff games, and the unit recorded the team's 12th shutout of the season in the state semifinal against Springbrook.
"We switched up our defensive formation this year in favor of a system that is more supportive and more proactive instead of being reactive," Miller said. "Our defensive line has done a great job learning the new system and working together to make it work."
The defensive line has been anchored by juniors Martina Rabade and Sydney Small. Rabade's speed and aggression has been key for the Bulldogs, while Small has provided a consistent and reliable presence for the entire group. In addition to her obvious talent the team's goalie, junior Juliet Twomey, has displayed a calming demeanor all season which has given the entire defense confidence.
Churchill's midfield is led by a pair of playmaker captains who routinely make an impact on the game. Senior Jocelyn Kelley was highlighted by Miller for her hustle and intelligence, while junior Faith Kean has been crucial in the Bulldogs' ability to working the ball up the field.
Up front, sophomore forward Alexandra Sperling has been the team's leading scorer this season, and has made it a habit of coming up with big performances in big games. Her strike partner is senior captain Jenny Langerman, a player Miller praised for being dependable, relentless and having excellent stick skills. Langerman also scored the game's lone goal in the semifinal against Springbrook.
This is a spot that Churchill's field hockey program has been in before, but not for some time. When the Bulldogs take the field this Saturday at Washington College against South River this Saturday at 6:30 PM, it'll be the first time Churchill has been in a field hockey state final since 1985. If the Bulldogs win, it'll be the team's first state title since 1983.
Miller couldn't be more happy about the team's opportunity to play in a state final. The Bulldogs are in it to win it, but however the season ends, it's impossible to describe Churchill's 2016 season without using some form of the word success.
"I am enormously proud of these girls. I know first hand the amount of work they've put in, not only during the season, but in the offseason and in their high school careers so far. They made a decision to make field hockey a priority in their lives, and they have earned the success they've seen this season," Miller said. "We are thrilled to be in the state finals."
|November 11th, 2016||By: Wick Eisenberg|