Sports Help Severna Park Athletes Endure Rugged Time
By Keith Mills
It has been an absolutely brutal last four months for everyone associated with the Severna Park athletic program. Jim McCandless, the school's longtime baseball coach, was found dead at Kinder Park in Severna Park in January, and just last week it was the shocking death of 16-year-old Tracy Vander Kolk that rocked both the community and the girls' lacrosse team.
The Falcons play Westminster in Wednesday's Class 3A-4A state championship game. The Owls will be going for their first state title and Severna Park for its 11th, but there is a far more relevant story line in this game.
How does a group of young girls deal with the stunning death of one of their own, whose twin sister is also on the team?
Rachel Vander Kolk is a backup goaltender for coach Carin Peterson, who has been at the helm for all 10 of Severna Park's state titles and was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Hall of Fame in October 2011.
Together, the Falcons coaches and players attended a viewing for Tracy on May 14 before playing Anne Arundel County rival South River during the regional semifinals.
Severna Park won the game, though the final score was eclipsed by the burden Tracy's teammates overcame even to play the game, much less win it.
Then there was the kindness of South River coach Kim McNemar and her team before the game. McNemar, whose team had beaten Severna Park earlier during the year, presented Peterson and the Falcons with a bouquet of flowers, a gesture of respect and friendship between two of the premier girls' high school coaches and programs in the state.
The Falcons beat Leonardtown May 16 to reach the state semifinals for the 13th time since the girls' tournament was started in 1990. During the regional championship game May 18, the Falcons showed their focus and resiliency again as they beat Catonsville, 15-10.
There will also always be some who feel the Falcons should not have even played one game last week, much less three, because of the tragedy of Tracy Vander Kolk's death.
But the power of the team was never more evident -- the power of camaraderie, friendship, accountability and responsibility, not just in and around the Severna Park campus on Robinson Road, but throughout Anne Arundel County.
On Thursday, one day after Broadneck lost to Leonardtown during an emotional 8-7 regional semifinal, Bruins coach Karen Tengwall took her team to Severna Park High School for the Falcons' final tuneup before Friday's state semifinal game. The schools are bitter rivals in every sport, but especially in lacrosse, as the Falcons and Bruins have set the standard for excellence in the state since Broadneck opened in 1983.
Many of the girls grew up together playing in recreation leagues and many continue to play together outside of high school in club lacrosse. It is, without question, one of the most intense rivalries locally in any sport.
Yet here were the girls on the Broadneck team walking toward the Severna Park girls, not just to wish them good luck during Friday's game against Catonsville, but wearing T-shirts that read "One county, One rival, One heart" on the back and "Always Forever Tracy #15" on the front.
"An amazing thing to do," said Larry Sell of the Severna Park Booster's Club. "Our girls were really touched, just an incredible thing to do."
The gesture made an impression on Peterson and her team and put the game in perspective. Severna Park responded with an impressive win. Junior Morgan Torggler led the way with four goals. Courtney Wells and Ally Adams added three each, while Camille King came up big again in goal with eight saves.
A few hours after Severna Park's girls' lacrosse team was winning its 12th regional championship, the Falcons baseball team was losing a heartbreaking game to Arundel for the Class 4A East Region championship and a sixth trip to the state semifinals.
It ended an emotional year for first-year coach Bob Felts and his young team. Felts took over the vaunted Falcons program when his friend McCandless took his life in late January. McCandless had led Severna Park to the state final a year ago against Westminter and had led the Falcons to all three of the school's state baseball championships.
Though the season ended with a 7-5 loss to one of its most bitter rivals, the Falcons' 16-5 record was a testament to the coaching and mentorship of Felts and his staff.
Friday night, after the Falcons had beaten Catonsville in the girls' lacrosse region finals, Peterson and assistant Kim Lawton gathered with family and friends at a Severna Park restaurant not so much to celebrate the win as to reflect on what had been a tragic, yet uplifting and inspiring week.
Lawton is no stranger to the triumph and tragedy of sports. One of the finest athletes ever to play at Severna Park, Lawton went on to play lacrosse at Loyola College, where she helped the Greyhounds upset Maryland in 2003 and reach the women's national semifinals.
Her coach was Diane Geppi-Aikens, who learned before that memorable season that her brain cancer was inoperable. Geppi-Aikens coached the entire season from a wheelchair, but never missed a game in leading the Greyhounds to their best season ever.
Loyola won its first 14 games in a row before losing to Princeton during the national semifinals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. One month later, on June 30, 2003, Geppi-Aikens lost her battle with cancer.
Lawton was one of two dozen players their college coach inspired nine years ago. Now, along with Peterson; Tracy's mother, Tanya; and her father, Keith, she is trying to guide the Falcons through a difficult time. This week the girls will come together one more time this week as a team, in honor of their teammate -- Tracy Vander Kolk.
Posted May 21, 2012