By Nelson Coffin
For the Notre Dame Prep and Garrison Forest field hockey teams, there was no testing the water before diving headlong into the revamped A Conference schedule on Thursday afternoon.
The two powerhouse programs, which are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Baltimore metropolitan area by the Varsity Sports Network and met in last year’s championship game, opened the 2018 A Conference campaign against one another with the Blazers prevailing, 3-2, in the showdown.
With the league expanded from seven to nine teams, the rivals will meet only once during the regular season, meaning that the Grizzlies can only attempt to exact revenge in the playoffs.
That’s why JJ Kraft’s second breakout game of the week was so important for NDP.
After scoring three goals in an 8-0 rout of Our Lady of Good Counsel on Monday, the senior forward posted yet another hat trick against the Grizzlies as the Blazers extended their winning streak to 22 games.
Kraft started fast and finished strong.
The American University commit converted a feed from senior midfielder/defender Rachel Borzymowski to put the Blazers on top, 1-0, midway through the opening period
NDP (4-0, 1-0 A Conference), which won its first three non-league games by a combined 24-0 over Fallston, Paint Branch and Good Counsel, gave up its first goal of the season when senior center midfielder Leigh James knotted the score for the Grizzlies (5-1, 0-1) on a wicked shot in the 23rd minute.
James had unleashed two rocket shot prior to deadlocking the score, barely missing wide on both offerings.
The score stayed the same until Kraft struck again, on an assist by junior attacker/midfielder Liza Regan, with just over 14 minutes remaining in regulation.
The same duo produced the Blazers’ third goal less than three minutes later to give NDP a 3-1 edge.
The Grizzlies rallied to pull within a goal on a tally by Annie Fenwick after an assist from Ryleigh McComas and then pressed forward for the equalizer when Riley Patro’s sizzler was alertly kick-saved by sophomore goalie Brooke Borzymowski for the Blazers with less than two minutes to go.
The hero of the day, Kraft, said that she has been encouraged by NDP coach Katrina Ross and star midfielder Nathalie Friedman to be more aggressive on the field.
“Coach Kat and Nat have gotten on me,” she said. “They see my potential. Now I’m firing a lot of shot. I know where my teammates are going to go and where they will put the ball.”
Ross said that Kraft’s development into a serious scoring threat has been “two years in the making.”
For NDP, it’s well worth the wait.
“The biggest difference is that last year, when she would make a move, she would get stuck,” Ross said. “This year, she’s much quicker when she makes a move and is able to get a shot or a pass off.”
Garrison Forest coach Traci Davis said that opening league play with a game of that magnitude was not easy.
“But I am pleased with how well we played,” she said, noting that James, McComas, Celia Donner and Emma Nesbitt were particularly effective in the contest for the Grizzlies. “We have some improvements to make. We just have to learn that you can’t have a letdown in the A Conference and expect to win. The teams in the A Conference are too good.”
The A Conference battles continue for both squads next week when NDP will host Archbishop Spalding on Tuesday while the Grizzlies travel to meet McDonogh on Monday.