The final whistle sounded in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 4A East field hockey championship Nov. 1, apparently signaling an end to South River's season. Despite jumping ahead to an early 1-0 lead, the defending 4A state champion Seahawks couldn't hold the advantage and lost to Severna Park, 4-1.
South River's players were initially dejected after the loss, but that changed on the bus ride home as the conversation quickly turned to offseason workouts and how excited the group was to improve for 2018.
Little did the Seahawks know their offseason hadn't started quite yet.
South River's season was able to continue after Severna Park's players and coaching staff were suspended by their school's administration for one game. The suspension occurred because of a team prank that involved throwing toilet paper and condiments onto private property.
The official ruling is that the MPSSAA 4A East regional championship is now a forfeit win for South River. The Seahawks now are one win away from repeating as state champions.
"I got a call on [Nov. 3] at about 1:30 in the afternoon from our athletic director, who asked me to get to the school as soon as possible," South River head coach Megan Atkinson said. "When I get there, my whole team is there as well as Clayton Kulp from Anne Arundel County's Board of Education's athletic department. He explained the whole situation and that we would be representing our region at the state tournament. My mind immediately starts racing because we had to go from having a couple days off to a practice that night. The players were excited though. They have a lot of pride and don't like to lose, so they were excited for this chance."
Said South River senior attacker Paris Plummer: "We were all really surprised. We'd never heard of something like this happening, so we didn't think it was an actual possibility. But we're back in it and immediately we started talking about how it was go time. We want to put it all out on the field so we don't lose again."
The Seahawks did just that in the state semifinal round Nov. 6 against Churchill, which South River had defeated to win the 2016 MPSSAA 4A state championship. South River got goals in the first 20 minutes from junior midfielders Morgan Lee and Allison Corey and sophomore attacker Jacqueline Venable-Croft, and coasted to a 3-0 win against Churchill.
"We were all really nervous at the start of the game, but we were able put it behind us," junior defender McKenzie Jamison said. "I think we played really well against Churchill. We scored first and just kept an aggressive mentality the entire game."
South River hopes to top that performance Nov. 11 in the state title game at Washington College against Dulaney, which is on an 18-game winning streak.
To Atkinson, the win against Churchill confirmed what she'd been telling her players ever since finding out the group was back in the postseason.
"We weren't introduced back in because we're a random name out of a hat," she said. "We were region finalists, a top eight team in the state that deserved to be there because we work hard and are talented. It's definitely a little weird because I doubt a team has ever lost a playoff game and then qualified for a state championship, but in my mind, I also know we've worked extremely hard all season."
Few teams entered this season with as many question marks as South River after graduating nine seniors, including six starters, from last year's group. The Seahawks started slow but continued to improve as the season wore on, and they carry a 12-6 record into the state final.
That progress was evident during the team's 2-1 win in the regional semifinal against Broadneck, which had beaten South River early in the season.
"We scored first, which was huge," Atkinson said. "It always gives you a mental edge to go a goal up and allows you to play more controlled. Luckily for us we were able to hold the lead, and I think that was our best game all season."
For Atkinson, she hopes her players grow as a result of being a part of this crazy postseason adventure, regardless of how it ends.
"It's a lesson in staying positive and working hard helping you if you get a second chance, which you cannot take for granted," Atkinson said. "Second chances don't always come along, but when they do, you have to push through and try your hardest to take advantage of them."
Photo: South River junior midfielder Allison Corey (Paula Loucas/Courtesy Photo)