Meghan Punaro’s Madison High girls’ field hockey team entered the recent Liberty District tournament as the No. two seed, and the Warhawks had high expectations of reaching last Thursday’s finals on their own home field.
But as it turned out, Madison, following a dominating quarterfinals round win over South Lakes, saw its hopes of playing in the district title game end with a 2-0 upset loss to No. 6-seed Langley on Oct. 20.
“It was a tough loss for our girls,” said Punaro, the third year Madison coach. “They’d been working very hard and our goal was to make it to the district championship game. Langley played very well.”
Langley went on to Thursday night’s finals where it lost to top seed Fairfax, 1-0. The tournament semifinals and finals games all took place on Madison’s nifty turf field. Madison certainly would have loved to have been playing at its home site in the championship contest. But the Warhawks (12-8), who had beaten the Saxons at home two weeks earlier, 2-1 in overtime, in a regular season affair, could not get past Langley in the postseason encounter.
Nevertheless, Madison was a focused, confident group going into this week’s 16-team Northern Region tournament. The Warhawks were scheduled to play on Tuesday (Oct. 27) at W.T. Woodson in a first round matchup.
Punaro, in getting her team ready for regionals, recently told her Warhawk players they are capable of beating the best teams in the region. Madison played a tough out of district schedule during the regular season, defeating one of the region’s better teams in South County, 3-2, and falling in overtime to Chantilly, 2-1. The Warhawks also defeated such non-district rivals as Robinson, 3-0, and Annandale, 2-1. In a pre-season encounter against Woodson, Madison lost a close 3-2 game.
“We talked in practice the other day,” said Punaro, of her team pep talk. “I told them if we can play our game I think we can beat [quality] teams in the region. I think we’ve prepared ourselves well. They’re used to those tough games.”
The backbone of Madison’s roster this season has been its seven seniors. The Warhawks do not have any formal team captains, but Punaro said the squad has received outstanding leadership from its seniors: Aly Beden, Stephanie Buchko, Taylor Claybrook, Hallie Dominick, Diana Marquez, Kelly Merchant and Lindsay Weber.
“My entire senior class has really stepped up,” said Punaro. “We didn’t have captains this year. But every game, someone different has stepped up. We’ve had several seniors who have led the girls.”
The coach believes her 12th graders’ experience can be a huge factor in Madison putting together a strong showing at regionals. Many of the seniors were part of Madison’s team a year ago that won a first round region playoff game before falling to Westfield, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
“They were there last year and know what to expect,” said Punaro, of her seniors. “They’ve done a great job.”
MADISON was hoping to have Claybrook, a center midfielder and a First Team All-District selection this season, back in the line-up after missing the district playoffs with a concussion injury. Her absence certainly hurt Madison in the loss to Langley as Punaro had to make several position changes to help make up for the standout players’ loss.
“It was tough for the girls,” said Punaro, of not having one of their better teammates in the line-up in the playoff game against Langley. “Some players took different positions.”
Punaro was proud that her players were willing to play wherever needed to help fill the void of Claybrook not being in the line-up.
“Players would ask, `Where do you want me to play, coach,’” recalled Punaro. “It was a lot for the girls to adjust to.”
Beden moved from her usual forward position to midfield and played a solid game against the Saxons.
Madison’s leading scorer this season was Dominick, a First Team All-District selection who tallied 21 goals. In the net, the Warhawks received outstanding play from Marquez, the team’s first year starting goalie.
“She’s just done a phenomenal job,” said Punaro, of her goalie. “She really stepped up. She kept our team together and kept us in close games.”