by Derek Toney
Notre Dame Prep's field hockey team had a massive target on its back this season. The Blazers weren't perfect, unlike last season, but they're champions again.
Notre Dame Prep won its second straight IAAM A Conference title with a 3-1 victory over Garrison Forest School, 3-1, at Archbishop Spalding's Whittles Field Sunday. Julia Kraft, Natalie Friedman and Rachel Borzynowski each scored for the Blazers (20-1 overall).
The Towson school rebounded from an early assault from the upset-minded Grizzlies, becoming the first program to go back-to-back in the area's premier conference since Garrison Forest (2010-2012). The win capped another perfect run (14-0 including playoffs) in league play.
"To stay No. 1 the entire season with a target on our back...these kids have just fought day in and day out," said Notre Dame Prep coach Katrina Ross.
Last year, the Blazers were the hunter, emboldened by the 2016 final loss to McDonogh School. The Hampton Road school captured its first crown (defeated Garrison Forest) and first perfect season (18-0).
This year, Notre Dame Prep had a daunting non-league slate to go along with the IAAM A grind. The Blazers lost to Arundel, ending a 32-game win streak.
It got Notre Dame Prep's attention.
"Arundel's a great team. I don't think we played to our potential, but it was a wake up call," said senior Julia Kraft. "We were undefeated last season and had a lot of pressure on us this year. We knew we had to come back stronger."
"We played great hockey, we just didn't finish," said Ross. "We learned from it and we moved on."
The Blazers got an early jolt Sunday from Garrison Forest, which got a goal from Riley Patro in the game's 7th minute. The Owings Mills school had six penalty corners inside the 10 minutes.
Kraft (American University) one of 13 Division I commits on the Blazers' roster got her stick on Meredith Medvetz's penalty corner entry pass, tying the game with about 8:40 remaining in the half.
Kraft said she got the shot off between her legs.
"It wasn't within eye sight," said Kraft. "It was very reassuring that we were still in it."
Friedman got the lead for Notre Dame Prep midway in the second half, ripping a shot from about 10 yards. Four minutes later, Rachel Boryzmowski converted on a penalty stroke, making it 3-1.
"We just knew we had to get composed and finish out, just like we did last year," said Friedman, whose team rebounded from a 1-0 deficit to Garrison Forest in last year's title match. "We didn't get frantic. We just played our game."
Garrison Forest, looking for its first title since its historic three-peat run earlier this decade, appeared to answer with a penalty corner score at the 10-minute mark, but was ruled to have to hit off of Blazers goalie's Brooke Borzymowski's leg.
Despite a second straight final loss, Grizzlies coach Traci Davis was proud of her team's effort.
"This was a really special group of girls who connected on and off the field," said Davis. "How they've grown together is what we as coaches will be most proud of, and hopefully, is what they'll remember when the sting wears off. This is going to hurt a bit."
While exorcising the pain of 2016 was the motivation for Notre Dame Prep last fall, Ross said sending off her seniors with another IAAM A crown was the catalyst this season.
"This team is just special. They have worked extraordinary hard, but these kids came to us with the talent," said Ross, last fall's VSN Coach of the Year. "It takes a community to build a team like this... I have benefitted from it as the coach lucky enough to get them at this level."
IAAM A Conference field hockey championship
at Whittles Field, Archbishop Spalding
Notre Dame Prep 3, Garrison Forest School 1
Goals: Garrison Forest - Patro; Notre Dame Prep - Kraft, Friedman, R. Borzymowski
Assists: Notre Dame Prep - Medvetz
Saves: Garrison Forest - Rumsey 5; Notre Dame - B. Borzymowski 4
Garrison Forest 1 0 - 1
Notre Dame Prep 1 2 - 3