Field Hockey Falls Just Short of First State Final Since 2007
After dropping two of their first three games this fall, the Cougars went back to the drawing board. After much self-reflection and reevaluation, Quince Orchard realized that moving another player into its midfield would allow senior playmaker Zene Howard to focus more of her efforts on creating offense, and switched its formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3. The move paid off immediately. From 1-2, the Cougars went on a 12-game tear to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2014.
Looking for their first title since 2006—and second overall—the Cougars fell just short of making their first state final appearance since 2007 in a 2-0, semifinal loss to Baltimore County’s Dulaney High on Nov. 6. Playing in their ninth state semifinal in 12 years, the Lions were then beaten in the final, 1-0, by 24th-time champion Severna Park of Anne Arundel County in the championship game.
“(Dulaney) is a very strong team; they had a lot of experience and you could tell,” Vincenty said. “We played well, we just played against a team that was better.”
Quince Orchard’s (12-2) state semifinal run garnered much well-deserved attention in the field hockey community after the Cougars’ 1-0 dismissal of Anne Arundel County powerhouse Broadneck in the state quarterfinals. Anne Arundel has long been considered the top tier in Maryland high school field hockey, and the Cougars proved they could not only hang with the best, but win.
Despite the disappointment of not winning the title this season, the experience and opportunity to play against such accomplished programs, should pay major dividends for Quince Orchard next fall, Vincenty said.
“Those kids all start playing club at a much younger age, so playing teams like that and seeing how talented those girls are, it shows (our girls) the level they’re hoping to reach,” Vincenty said. “Now they have a goal that they want to achieve; they don’t want to just make the state semifinals and hold off a team, they want to win a state championship. To do that we’re going to have to commit in the offseason, not just to doing the bare minimum but to playing year-round, and playing at an elite level. I’ve already had girls asking about club and starting to join.”
Howard, who has knack for creating scoring opportunities, led Quince Orchard with 18 goals and 15 assists this season, and played a role in 65 percent of the team’s scoring (51 goals). She notched the game winner against Broadneck. On the opposite end of field Howard’s younger sister, freshman Zoe Howard’s defensive mindset played a major role in solidifying Quince Orchard’s backline when sophomore defender Izzy Romano suffered a season-ending injury shortly before playoffs.
Led by senior Maddie Pomrink, junior Amanda McNeal, Romano and junior goalkeeper Caroline Simmons—who made 13 saves against Dulaney—Quince Orchard’s defense didn’t allow a single goal during the Cougars’ 12-game win streak and finished the season with 13 shutouts.
“We’re graduating six people and will lose a little bit from everywhere on the field, but the good thing is we had a really strong senior class with good leaders this year,” Vincenty said. “They did a good job of holding our young girls accountable. I think (what we did) this year will definitely help us next year.”
Girls’ Soccer Makes Sixth State Tournament Appearance
The Cougars rode an 11-game unbeaten streak to the Class 4A West Region II title on Oct. 30 to reach the state tournament for the second time in three years. But Quince Orchard’s bid for a third season-ending title—and first since 2007—ultimately ended in a tightly contested 2-1, state-quarterfinal loss to longtime rival Winston Churchill on Nov. 2.
A perennial state title contender, Quince Orchard (12-2-1) is no stranger to the latter rounds of the postseason. The Cougars expected to be playing well into November, 20th-year coach Peg Keiller said, and were ready for a competitive matchup. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they missed a few valuable chances and found themselves on the wrong end of a couple of close calls, including a questionable offside call on junior Michaela Belkin after she appeared to level the game at 2-2 in the 71st minute.
Quince Orchard trailed 1-0 at halftime before senior defender Lindsey Brick evened the score at 1-1 in the 44th minute. But Churchill’s Grace Whitman scored the go-ahead goal less than five minutes later.
“It can come down to one missed touch, or one missed call,” Keiller said. “We expect to be playing games like that (late in the postseason) every year; you have to be able to play and win games like that to get to where we want to go. It’s a lot of fun, and I think the difference this year was that (Churchill) really peaked at the right time. They had a lot of injuries and illnesses at the beginning of the year and peaked at just the right time.”
Quince Orchard’s success this fall was predicated on the Cougars’ overall versatility and soccer knowledge. Typically comfortable holding on to the ball and moving upfield more methodically, Quince Orchard changed its formation this season to employ a more dynamic attack that kept its opponents on their heels. The Cougars outscored their opponents 48-9, including 10 shutouts.
Only two teams scored more than once against Quince Orchard in a single game.
“Good teams are able to predict where you might go; (the best teams) have a Plan B, a Plan C and sometimes even a Plan D,” Keiller said. “This year we added that unpredictability going forward. The strength of this team really was their soccer IQ and ability to read what was going on in a game and adjust.”
Junior Natalie Price’s team-high 13 goals this fall were the most scored in a single season by any Cougar in recent history, Keiller said. Price also added seven assists. Sophomore Grace Soler, who contributed six goals, led the team in assists with 10, the most anyone’s had in several years. Many of them came on crosses finished by Price in the air.
“Sometimes you get teams that have a lot of success but if one player is shut down (so is the team),” Keiller said. “(Our girls) realized that our strength in different areas (of the field) was what made us so strong as a team.”
Senior Leader Qualifies for State Cross Country Meet
Jonathan Fontek capped off his high school cross country tenure with a personal best performance at the loaded Class 4A state meet hosted by Hereford High on Nov. 9. Fontek’s time of 17 minutes, 52.99 seconds on the notoriously challenging course was good for 97th, out of 176 student-athletes. Fontek qualified for the season-ending competition with his 19th-place finish at the Class 4A West Region race on Oct. 31.
While Fontek was the only Cougar to make it to states this fall, the regional meet featured some of Quince Orchard’s best displays of the season, across the board, Coach Seann Pelkey said.
“Certainly qualifying (Fontek) was automatically a step forward for us from last year,” Pelkey said. “Neither team made it to states last year, so that was our first goal for this season. And even though we came up short, both (boys’ and girls’) teams had their best days, if not extremely close to it, at regionals.”
Though Quince Orchard has historically produced some of Montgomery County’s best cross country teams, it’s been a few years since the Cougars found themselves in state title contention. The boys won the last of their five state titles in 2007 and finished second in 2009; the 2001 state champion girls’ best finish of late was as runner-up in 2012. And as Quince Orchard works to build the program back up to where it’s been, the Cougars’ focus is more on process driven—rather than outcome driven—goals, Pelkey said.
“It’s all about the journey and where (the kids) are headed as individual runners; we want to build a program of lifelong runners,” Pelkey added. “It’s about what they’re learning from each race and each training and how they’re progressing from it.”
Fontek’s journey and his success this fall sent a message about possibilities and future success to his teammates and some, such as freshman Kehan Bhati who was Quince Orchard’s third finisher at regionals, will benefit from learning this lesson as underclassmen. Three years ago, Fontek showed up for the first day of cross country tryouts without his physical and by the time he had everything sorted out and was eligible to participate, the Cougars were too deep into the season for him to catch up, Pelkey said.
As a sophomore, Fontek ran a season-best 19:28.00 en route to a 65th-place finish at the county meet, but he was a year behind where he could have been. As a junior, the hard work began paying off and Fontek had caught the cross country bug. Not only was he the Cougars’ fastest runner this fall, but he embraced his role as a leader and his journey set a great example for his teammates.
While the Quince Orchard boys are slated to return only two of their top seven—Bhati and junior Zane Obi—next season, only two of the Cougar girls’ scorers were seniors this fall. Sophomore Claire Poulson led Quince Orchard’s tight pack at regionals, finishing 61st, just ahead of seniors Zoe Bell (65th) and Monica Soni (67th), classmate Isabela Newlands (68th) and freshman Sophie Thrush (73rd).
“We have a lot coming back (on the girls’ side) and they already have that identity of being a strong pack, within a minute of one another,” Pelkey said. “(The goal is) to move that pack up a little further next year, and then move up further the next year, and keep progressing.”