It would be unrealistic to expect any program in any sport to maintain the kind of impossibly high standards that the Chesapeake field hockey team has established over the past two seasons.
Of course, that’s exactly what the Cougars intend to do.
With two consecutive 3A state championships to defend, the girls returned to campus this August with renewed drive to add a third this fall.
“We have a date in Chestertown in November,” said sixth-year head coach Joan Johnson, referencing the annual field hockey state finals held at Washington College. “That has to be your goal. Every one of them has their sight on that, without looking past everything in between.”
There’s a road map to get there, and this year’s version has familiar hurdles and a couple of new wrinkles.
The roster will have to do without key contributors from the last two title teams as Chesapeake graduated multiple starters who are continuing their field hockey careers in college: Logan Beal (American University); Riley Sullivan and Alexis Arruda (Stevenson); as well as Bridgette Tayman and goalkeeper Alexis Wade.
The 15-girl varsity squad features seven seniors who figure to keep the Cougars strong, including the dynamic senior forward duo of Rachel Fleig and Eryn Beal. Fleig, who is committed to play at Appalachian State, netted 15 goals to go with 17 assists last season, while Beal, who will play lacrosse at Temple University and is the only player to score in both of Chesapeake’s state championship games, scored 13 goals.
Senior Hannah McKeon is committed to play at Towson and if not for field hockey would probably have an outstanding cross-country career; McKeon ran the team’s preseason two-mile test in under 12 minutes.
“Hannah’s been under the radar because of everyone else, but she’s a great player,” said Johnson.
Senior defender Tatum Schatt (committed to play at Washington College), Cat Johnson, freshman Phoebe Lee, sophomore Maddie Hoyer, junior Shelby Bennoit, sophomore Georgia Spangler, Leah Evans and Mason Frechtel will fortify the midfield and defense in front of returning goalkeeper Eve Vickery.
Chesapeake has 32 girls in the program, with 15 on varsity and 17 on JV. Small numbers are nothing new for the Cougars, who turn it into an advantage by stressing the importance of peak conditioning.
“It becomes a little concerning, but I also think it puts a little bit of extra pressure and responsibility on these kids,” said Johnson. “Be in shape, do what you’re asked, make sure when you’re told to run on a Sunday on your own, that you do it. So they’re working hard.”
The Cougars saw the departure of assistant coach Kelly Shanahan and conditioning coach Ben Pardew, who both joined the staff at Severna Park under new Falcon head coach Shannon Garden. Chesapeake’s 2018 assistants include Sara Gannon, who coaches in the Lake Shore program, Cougar grad Stephanie Campbell and new strength and conditioning coach Kyle Flynn.
If strength-of-schedule rankings were a thing, there’s a good chance Chesapeake’s would be at the very top. In addition to the usual local A-tier gauntlet of Severna Park, Broadneck, South River, Arundel, Old Mill, Marriott’s Ridge and Atholton, the Cougars also face Archbishop Spalding, Delmar (Delaware) and Notre Dame Prep, and likely another top-level private school such as Camden Catholic of New Jersey when the Cougars host an eight-team tournament on September 8.
“I have loaded [the schedule] up,” said Johnson. “It’s very competitive, and it’s a tough season to get through, and that will prepare us to go to the 3A playoffs.”
While focusing on the near-term goal of the season, the Cougars have also laid the foundation for the long-term by steadily increasing their presence and integration with the Lake Shore youth program. Chesapeake held a clinic in June for area girls and shared the field with Gannon’s Lake Shore youth team during tryouts and evening practices in August.
The players took ownership of the program and conveyed a sense of pride for working with the younger players.
“In my time at Chesapeake, we’ve gotten a lot better field-hockey wise, and we’re just trying to carry that down to the little kids, get them into it and make sure they keep playing,” said Beal. “If we build the rec and have them here tonight and at camp, it gets them involved and shows them that high school is fun, and they’ll want to play in high school, and we keep building the program. Hopefully it just stays at the level it is now and gets even better.”
The past, present and future is all bright for Chesapeake field hockey, and Fleig believes the next chapter of the current Cougars’ legacy is there to be written.
“Standards are high,” said Fleig. “The three-peat is what we want, and I’m sure the team is going to work for it. It’s going to be a lot harder this year, but I can see that we want it, so we’re definitely going to give it our all.”