- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
ANNAPOLIS The good news, bad news for the Northern field hockey team coincided with the weather.
The good news was that the rain, which had come down steadily all night, disappeared almost as soon as the game was over.
The bad news was that Northern’s chances for a Class 3A state championship disappeared as well following a 4-0 loss to Atholton of Howard County on Wednesday night at Broadneck High School.
Playing on an unfamiliar turf field, the Patriots (11-6-1 overall) yielded two goals in each half in the program’s 11th appearance at the state tournament.
Northern won its only state title in 1997. Northern head coach Nicole Kerfoot has led the team to the state playoffs in three of her four seasons and has a 44-22-1 career coaching record.
“I’m extremely proud of the girls, always very proud of them,” Kerfoot said as she juggled a hand warmer in each hand to guard against the cold and windy conditions. “They’ve come a long way this season and I’m just fortunate to be able to coach them. When we get up here, it’s just a totally different game. Most [of our players] start [playing the sport] in ninth-grade, most of the teams we face [at the state level] start a lot younger, but we’re starting to get a youth program so that will help us in the future.”
Northern senior Julie Keleti said the state appearance was somewhat unexpected.
“We weren’t expecting this because in the regular season we lost to Huntingtown, and that’s our top rival and when we did [beat them] in regionals that was amazing. That was our goal [to make it here] and we made it.”
The Raiders (14-2) will be looking for their first state championship when they face Linganore of Frederick County on Saturday. The Lancers advanced after a 2-0 win over Hereford of Baltimore County.
“I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Atholton senior forward Briana Stine, who scored twice against the Patriots. “They’re a good team and so are we and it’s just going to be a good match.”
Atholton pressured Northern all night and opened the scoring when Stine deflected a shot 11 minutes 58 seconds into the game.
“It’s very important [to score first] because it puts the other team back on its heels,” Atholton head coach Martie Dyer said, “and our motto is, ‘Never rest on our laurels,’ so we keep going, keep going, keep going.”
Northern senior Tara Truitt looked at the early deficit as a positive sign.
“I think it actually helps because you work harder to get back the goal,” she said, “and you play harder and everyone works together more.”
But the Raiders added to their lead on Jennifer Bleakney’s one-timer at 23:53. Stine and Jaimie Cardea scored over the final 30 minutes.
The four goals were the most the Patriots had surrendered this year. Northern had shut out its previous four opponents.
Atholton had an 11-1 edge in penalty corners and outshot the Patriots 12-1 to snap Northern’s eight-game unbeaten streak.
“It was very tough to get something going [offensively],” Keleti said. “They’re definitely a tough team and I respect them for that.”
Northern’s only shot on goal came in the last three minutes.
“I think it was a little of both,” Kerfoot said of her offensive woes, which she contributed to both Northern not clicking and the Raiders defense. “We had some passes to get up the field, but their girls are used to this [type of] field and they’re quicker. They’re quick. So there was a little bit of nervousness with their girls doing so well.”
“[The defense] was so successful because I have strength in every line,” Dyer said. “There are no weak links anywhere.”
The Patriots had only played one game on turf field a semifinal win over second-seeded La Plata at North Point because Hurricane Sandy’s rains left La Plata’s field unplayable before the final.
“It was definitely difficult because we’re not used to [playing on turf],” Keleti said. “But we tried to adjust the best we could and also the rain didn’t help, but we definitely pushed through.”
Truitt agreed, “We were trying to be aggressive, but the turf, it’s just really different from the grass. It’s just hard to get used to.”
Meanwhile, Atholton had its own problem with the turf, but for different reasons.
“I know we sound a little spoiled, but we’re not used to this kind of turf as well,” said Stine of Atholton, which is playing regularly on turf for the first time this season after the school got a brand-new field. “[Our home turf] is brand-new so it’s very tall.”
Keleti said Northern’s turnaround moment came following a 2-0 loss to Huntingtown on Sept. 24.
“When we lost to Huntingtown, it made us realize that, ‘We suck,’” she said. “That was bad so we needed to erase that because we knew we would see them again and have a chance to come here.”
Kerfoot said she’s proud of the 2012 team and excited for the next few seasons.
“The girls did really well this season,” she said. “We had a freshman goalie [Sophie Thon] who never played before, so we’re trying to train her to get used to the game and everything and I’m really proud of my seniors. We came a long way and I’m sorry we couldn’t finish with a win.”
Truitt is hoping to play lacrosse in college and may also play club field hockey.
“We played really well throughout the season to get here and I think we played really well here,” she said.