Being in the spotlight can have many adverse effects on a team.
Egos can inflate.
Chemistry can turn sour.
Athletes can succumb to pressure.
But there are also teams which thrive under pressure, transforming attention garnered into motivation.
Such is routine for the St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes field hockey team. The Saints, considered one of the top programs in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, are the two-time defending Virginia private school state champion and haven’t lost a game since 2006. Head coach Marsha Way, entering her 31st season with the program, has won 19 Independent School League titles in the league’s 24-year existence, and four state championships. Saints athletes grow up playing together, forming a bond which helps deal with consistently receiving an opponent’s best effort.
Translation: the St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes program has a target on its chest — and players wear it as a badge of honor.
"It’s exciting," senior Emily Rhoads said. "It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a good pressure."
Rhoads, a defender, and midfielders Reilly Woodman and Kelsey Horton are the Saints’ leaders in 2009 and among 10 seniors on the team. The girls said entering the campaign with a two-season winning streak helps them focus.
"I think that motivates us to work even harder in practice," Woodman said, "and make sure we keep up that legacy."
Way said she sees getting an opponent’s best effort every game as a compliment. It also helps the team stay focused during practice.
"It’s something I’m always thinking about," Way said of opponents’ desires to beat the Saints. "If anything it’s … something I can use to motivate and to keep our kids focused. … There is no easy game. The other team [is supposed to] lose, so they play a lot looser. … [Opponents] are looking to us. I wish they wouldn’t. I would kind of like to have some easy games."
The Saints’ most valuable asset may be their team chemistry. Some of the girls start going to school together as early as kindergarten, and spend many years getting familiar with one another on the field.
"I think that our grade, especially, has a great chemistry on the field," the senior Woodman said. "We move the ball really well to one another and we can always figure out where each other are and we all know our place on the field."
The players also have a strong bond with Way.
"I feel like her passion for field hockey and for this program kind of rub off on all of us," Horton said of her coach, "and that’s what makes us … successful."
The Saints opened their season Wednesday against Elizabeth Seton. Results were not available as of press time. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes plays in a tournament Saturday and hosts McLean on Tuesday.