For much of the night, it looked like the end of an era.
Chesapeake field hockey, three-time region winner, had its back against the wall in its quest for a fourth straight region crown, down 1-0 to a punchy Mount Hebron team that looked every bit like the team of its own dreams, slaying the defending state champs on their own turf and writing its way into history.
The Cougars weren’t having it. Chesapeake scored two second-half goals in the span of a minute, first an equalizer by Shelby Bennoit, then a go-ahead score by Hannah McKeon, to flip the script, shatter the Vikings’ dream-in-the-making and seize hold of the 3A East region championship on October 31 with a 2-1 win.
Every region championship has been impressive for the two-time defending state champion Cougars. This one, the fourth straight for Chesapeake, achieved in a season of adversity, might be the most impressive yet.
“The seniors don’t want to be done tonight,” said coach Joan Johnson, emotional in postgame comments. “After you go to the state championship game, it’s really hard to not have that as your goal. My girls have that focus, and that’s where they want to be.”
The Cougars (11-6) knew they had a game on their hands in the Vikings, who sought redemption after losing the region final to Chesapeake last year and who, having never won a state championship, were playing free of the burden of expectations. The Vikings were cheering their heads off on the sideline, performing coordinated dances, administering superstitious oils to each other’s wrists prior to substitutions, playing lighthearted and fast. They were willing their way to the state tournament. They had a little swagger. They had a fearlessness. They had mojo.
Then they had a 1-0 lead. Midway through the first half, a scrum in front of Chesapeake goalie Eve Vickery resulted in a penalty; Hebron was awarded a stroke. Esha Shah calmy flicked her shot into the left corner, and the Vikings were up 1-0, on the road, in the region final, against the juggernauts. Their dreams were coming true.
With trick-or-treaters enjoying Halloween in neighborhoods all around Pasadena, Maryland and the country, the mysterious descended on Mountain Road—the stadium lights cut out. Pitch black on the field. No explanation. A 20-minute delay ensued. The teams huddled around whiteboards, lit by cell phones, and talked game plans.
Play resumed, and Mount Hebron made it to halftime with a 1-0 advantage.
Even when Chesapeake came out as aggressors in the second half, the Vikings still looked like they carried the momentum. Their defense bent but held, and Chesapeake’s shots were parried away. Caitlyn Johnson’s corner was deflected wide. Mason Frechtel’s shot was off-target. Hebron goalie Hailey Conklin made a trio of kick saves. Chesapeake maintained pressure but couldn’t find the net. The Cougars looked frustrated. The season was 15 minutes away from ending.
Then, the breakthrough. On a corner insert, Bennoit got her stick to a pass from Johnson, deflecting it into the board to tie the game at 1-1 with 14:54 left.
“The main thing we practice is deflections. It’s not about the shot. No fancy stuff,” said Bennoit. “All you need is just tip it in the goal, and that’s what I did.”
The Vikings barely had time to reorganize before another Chesapeake barrage was on their doorstep. This time, McKeon pounced on a pass from Georgia Spangler in front of goal, slotting a shot into the boards for a 2-1 Cougar lead and a mad celebration throughout the stadium right on 14 minutes to play.
“You can’t give up until the last minute,” said McKeon. “We’ve scored in the last minute, we’ve won games in the last minute, and in overtime. We’re definitely a second-half team, and teams underestimate us because teams usually get tired and give up in the second half, but that’s when we come back, and that’s when we’re fired up. We have that [halftime] talk with each other, we set our goals, and we make them happen.”
The crestfallen Vikings took some time to regroup but eventually mounted pressure. Vickery made two saves over the final 12 minutes, and she finished with four total. Chesapeake salted the clock down, experience and mettle and determination leading them back to the state tournament for the fourth straight year.
Coach Johnson spoke proudly of the girls who have come into their own just as Chesapeake needed them; the Cougars were without injured players Madison Hoyer and Phoebe Lee, and a slew of players have accepted shifting roles and performed under pressure. Tatum Schatt and Leah Evans moved from the midfield back to defense to join Caitlyn Johnson. Attackers McKeon, Frechtel, Rachel Fleig and Georgia Spangler were bolstered by Meghan Mayo, Alyssa Kreuger, Mariana Donohue, Madison Billing and Abigayle Dunn.
“I really give kudos to Leah Evans and Tatum Schatt for stepping up and running the defense,” said Johnson. “I’m really proud of my girls that were subs at one point.”
Bennoit said through injuries and a couple players leaving the team, the pinch of small numbers is even greater than in years past.
“Every year our numbers get smaller and smaller, but we just work harder and harder,” said Bennoit.
The Cougars have shown resolve in making it this far, and they’ll have a chance to build on an already impossibly lofty legacy. Chesapeake will play 3A West champion Westminster on Monday at Broadneck High School.
A third straight state title would put Chesapeake in the Maryland pantheon. The players believe the team has what it takes to do it.
“I’m just really proud of this year,” said Schatt. “We’re pulling together and working better than we ever had. The passes are connecting, and we’re always talking on the field, and it’s just really working for us.”
Bennoit said the team cohesion is a driving factor.
“It’s just such a team effort,” she said. “It’s not an individual thing on the field. We work as one. I have so much trust and faith in everybody on the field. I know they have my back.”
McKeon revealed little doubt in the Cougars’ shot at a three-peat.
“We’ve got ourselves and our skills,” she said, “and we can do this.”
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