OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Watching the Stevenson field hockey team a year ago, it is hard believe it was only a five win season. The team had talent but it also had youth, which maybe shined a little too bright. Well, the team is a little bit older and with the right amount of upperclassmen. And with the addition of talented youth it may just be a winning combination. The Mustangs are ready to show that their championship game run two seasons ago was not a fluke.
The talented freshmen class that accounted for over half of the team's points in 2015 are now juniors. They have experience being in a conference championship game as well as a postseason championship. And the seniors, well they were a part of the team that won the program's first ever postseason title in their rookie season.
"Last year's record was a struggle because I don't feel like it accurately reflected the strength of our team," explained seventh-year head coach Laurel Martin. "We were very athletic, although young, and that combination was difficult. We really struggled to put the ball in net."
The team graduated its leading goal scorer from a season ago but right behind her was a ton of youth. And that youth is not only back but experienced. Junior Sara McVey has 54 career points through her first two seasons, which ranks 10th in program history. Her 21 goals also ranks tied for 10th.
The experience is not just on the stat sheet but also in the playing field. Most of that junior class played in every game last season while two of the sophomores played in all 16 games as rookies. And those games were against quality opponents.
This year's schedule is no different. The Mustangs will face the top two ranked teams from the final poll last season, including top-ranked and defending national champion Messiah. Out of conference, the team will travel to No. 2 Salisbury. Also on that list is 18th-ranked Alvernia.
"I think this whole preseason and traveling to Barbados and playing tough, physical and athletic competition has greatly benefited us," said Martin. "I think our preparation for a challenging schedule with some opening tough games, which includes the infamous Salisbury, a historically strong program, is huge."
Traveling to Barbados for preseason was a business trip for the team. It certainly gave the team time to get to know one another and bond but it also gave them an advantage in the training aspect. The Mustangs competed against club teams from both England and Ireland as well as the Barbados National and Junior National teams.
"We played some very strong teams that were physical and we needed to learn how to adjust and adapt to physical play, and we did that," Martin explained. "We also got to play on a fast surface, a true AstroTurf, and playing on that speed gave us great benefit with our stick skills and fitness."
Half of the team's games last year were one-goal contests. The Mustangs were 2-6 in those games, with four of those losses coming in conference play. After finishing one game ahead of last place Hood in the 2016 standings, Stevenson was picked to finish fifth in the MAC Commonwealth this year, a poll voted upon by the league's coaches.
Martin explained, "This year we have adjusted and put some people in new positions. We also inherited some freshmen who have natural goal scoring tendencies. So we should be good to go."
Returning with McVey are classmates Alexis Young, Ashley Meyer and Marissa Hoffman. That trio has accumulated a combined 63 points on 21 goals and 21 assists in their first two seasons. In net, sophomore Kelsey Eure played every minute in her freshman season a year ago.
Martin wants to see her team start strong right from the opening game. The team has dropped its season opener in both of the last two seasons. A win in the opening game for Martin and the Mustangs would help set up success early on.
"We need to open up extremely strong with McDaniel and not only secure a win but secure a strong win," stated Martin. "Not only to help feel confident for the players perspective but for the coaches perspective as well."
Confidence is going to be key for this year's team. They have proven that they can hang around with some of the top teams. And they believe that they can even win. Now all that is left is proving to everyone else that they can.
"I think we are definitely on the right track," Martin said. "We have some very strong natural athletes and we have a very good work ethic. I think we've turned the culture and we are moving in the right direction so I feel confident going into this season."
The Mustangs open the 2017 season on Friday, September 1 when they host McDaniel at Mustang Stadium beginning at 7:00 p.m.