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By AJ MASON

Staff writer

For the last few seasons, several Charles County field hockey teams have run into the issue of having fewer athletes on their rosters.

With a week gone by in the 2012 fall campaign, that issue has already impacted some teams around the county again.

McDonough head coach Megan Eicholtz is one of those coaches dealing with low numbers. She mentioned what low numbers can do to a team.

“Working with a small varsity team of 13 limits the ability to provide fresh legs and lungs throughout two 30-minute halves,” said Eicholtz, whose team fell in its first game to host La Plata last Friday. “It is also difficult to provide a true scrimmage, like practice when there are not enough girls to play 11-on-11 or even as few as seven-on-seven. We can very easily be put in a tight situation if one or two players are out sick or injured for a game, especially if that player is the goalkeeper.”

La Plata head coach Pomie Radcliff, who traditionally has a high number of players come out for her team, noted the importance of having a lot of girls on the team.

“It's always a great feeling to have a lot of girls come out for the team, especially the freshmen,” said Radcliff, who has 21 players on the roster, 10 of them seniors. “Having a lot of girls is so important and significant to any high school program, due to the fact that they are the foundation of the program and your future varsity team players.”

Eicholtz said that while it is great to have new girls come out for the team, experienced players are what sets the pace for practices and games.

“With little senior leadership on the team, we often struggle to find a solid pace that is comparable to other varsity teams in the conference,” she said. “A junior varsity team is essential for giving newcomers that first-year experience to learn the fundamental skills, rules and confidence that will develop over time.”

Radcliff explained why the Warriors have been successful with getting a lot of girls to come out and enjoy the sport of field hockey.

“I have been very fortunate since coaching at La Plata not to have a number issue with girls coming out. Overall, I feel that La Plata parents want and encourage their children to be involved in a variety of high school activities, not just sports,” Radcliff said. “With the assistance of Piccowaxen's physical education teachers who introduce the sport of field hockey to their girls, along with former players, parents who encourage many girls to come out and get involved overall is probably the number reason why our program is so successful.”

Thomas Stone sports 15 players on its roster, while North Point is very deep with 25 girls on the varsity squad.

After two rain delays, North Point (1-1, 1-1 SMAC) defeated Stone 7-0 on Tuesday night.

Stone head coach Melissa Hatch said that many of the girls have different priorities now.

“Some kids want to enter their freshmen year and not be committed to anything and see how their year goes. Others realize later [junior and senior years] that they really have not done anything while at school and need to be involved in different activities for colleges,” said Hatch, whose team is 0-2, 0-2 thus far. “It has been a bit since we have really seen an athlete that can be completely well-rounded and do sports year-round. I think we lose kids to specialization of a sport, too [being a one-sport athlete].”

"I am extremely happy with the turn out of girls at North Point," North Point head coach Sandra Fair said. "It is sometimes difficult to get everyone in [games] and give them quality playing time, but it is great to see the program grow each year. If we did not keep the girls, I think we would not see the growth and hidden potential they all have. The coaching staff, myself and [assistant] Jennifer Smith try to maintain a personal relationship with the girls and the combination has them coming back each year.”

Fair mentioned that the county coaches know it hurts not to have a feeder program in the middle schools or a recreational program.

"Girls don't get a chance to play until they are 14 or 15 years old as freshmen," she said. "Some even come out as juniors or seniors for the first time. But the idea that we can still keep them and teach them with the time we have gives them that hope of being on a good solid team even if it is only for a year or two."

Lackey head coach Jim Talbott said that at times last season he didn’t even have substitutions. This season, the Chargers field 14 players.

“Numbers do have an impact,” Talbott said. “We were begging for girls to come out, but I’m grateful this year that we had a group of friends come out for the team. I think we are competing with other sports like cheerleading and soccer, which are obviously more popular. Our school does not have a big population. With the newness of the sport, a lot of girls are uneasy about learning the rules of field hockey and are more familiar with other sports.”

ajmason@somdnews.com