Severna Park might be the best field hockey program ever to play in Maryland.
The Falcons have won 23 state championships, the most in any class for a public high school, according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association record book. Many came during the era of longtime coach Lil Shelton, who won 20, but Ann Andrews coached Severna Park to three titles during her time.
However, the Falcons' 2017 season ended when Anne Arundel County Public Schools superintendent George Arlotto withdrew the team from the playoffs after an incident regarding vandalism. Severna Park changed coaches this past offseason, and former Archbishop Spalding assistant Shannon Garden took over for Andrews. Even though Garden had been with Spalding for the past 10 years, she's well aware of what Severna Park means to field hockey in Anne Arundel County and Maryland.
Garden played for Arundel High School in the late 1980s, a decade that saw the Falcons win four Class 4A state titles. She's bringing in her own ideas while continuing Severna Park's winning tradition in the sport.
"We're doing a lot of new things that are different," Garden said. "We're kind of trying to find our way, kind of walking the line of marrying new ideas and style of myself and my staff to a 30-year storied tradition of winning and excellence."
Garden's dealt with plenty of success herself. She was on the staff at Spalding when it won the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland's A Conference championships in 2013 and 2015. Last fall, Spalding lost to eventual champion Notre Dame Prep in overtime in the semifinals.
Garden said she really enjoyed her time at Spalding but when she heard late in the spring that Severna Park needed a coach, she decided to go for it. Garden interviewed for the job and was hired.
"I just decided it was time to move on," she said.
In addition, Garden brought together a staff that's fared well at other places. Assistant coaches Kelly Shanahan and Ben Pardew came over from Chesapeake High School. The Anne Arundel County school has won the last two Class 3A state titles. Shanahan will be working with a little bit of everything while Pardew spends time with goalies and conditioning.
Lexi Bristow is also part of the staff and will be the junior varsity head coach. She'll help coach the varsity games, as well.
Severna Park athletic director Dave Lanham was impressed with Garden's knowledge of the game from so many levels; Garden's been an official as well as a player and coach.
"I think she's very positive," Lanham said. "She surrounds herself with a solid staff. We're in the business of promoting student-athletes, not winning state championships. That's a bonus."
The Falcons have plenty of motivation to win another state championship this season after the way 2017 ended.
Severna Park beat South River in the Class 4A East Region final but then had to withdraw from the state tournament when the entire team and its coaches were given one-game suspensions. This, according to the Capital Gazette, came because of an incident in which "more than two dozen residences, including vehicles were ‘rolled' with toilet paper, and doused with ketchup, hot sauce and other substances." This took place after the Falcons' win in that region final.
South River stepped in and won the state title. Garden wasn't with Severna Park last year, but she said the players are trying to put that incident in the past and looking at what they can do during the 2018 season.
"They just want to move on," Garden said. "It's a new year with the focus being on field hockey. They are super determined and motivated and committed and working really hard."
The Falcons should be able to make plenty of noise this year. Garden said they have 12 returnees from last year's team, and the players and their new coach are all getting used to each other.
"I was very, very nervous at first," Garden said. "I was excited. You've just got to kick that self-doubt out. Once I got to know them and saw how welcoming they were, we [were fine]."
In addition, there's a lot of new things that will be in place this year for Severna Park. Garden said the team is going to have new uniforms, a new team room, a new locker room plus a new field hockey field on campus.
The team dealt with some injuries during the preseason, but Garden said they've been working to get everybody ready to go. Seniors Alex Miller, Hailey Blachly, Camille Donaghey, Kate Bray and Delaney Ott plus junior Lila Slattery are all back and should play key roles throughout the season.
Garden has installed a system that's a little different and more aggressive than recent years, and the team spent the preseason getting acclimated. She's been very pleased with the way the Falcons have taken to this system.
"The girls have been amazing," Garden said. "They've been so welcoming, and they're open to trying new things. The girls I've met are amazing. They're awesome, committed and responsible."
There's no question this team will be fired up this season. The Falcons last won a state championship three years ago, and there's the added motivation of moving on from how last season ended.
Garden wants to help Severna Park get back to the top again. There's a lot of new pieces in place to give the Falcons a shot at another title, and they are gunning for state crown No. 24 with a new coach in place.
"It's a new day," Garden said. "And I hope it's going to be a good day."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Severna Park High School Athletics
Issue 247: September 2018
Originally published Sept. 17, 2018