Andrews looks to continue Severna Park field hockey team's winning ways
New coach takes over for Lil Shelton, who retired after leading the Falcons to 20 state titles in 37 years
Severna Park field hockey coach Ann Andrews, left, talks with Falcons goalie coach Carey Borkoski during a recent practice. Andrews replaces the legendary Lil Shelton as coach at Severna Park this season. (Algerina Perna / The Baltimore Sun / August 20, 2012)
Andrews turned her head to look at the girls in their white-and-blue practice uniforms. She saw their excited smiles, faces lit by sunlight, their collective eyes focused on her.
"They think if they chant long enough they can get out of the running," she said, a smile curling her lips. "They're, of course, testing the limits of the new coach. They don't know it doesn't matter how long they cheer, they still have to run."
The Falcons are starting a new adventure. For the first time in 37 years, Severna Park's field hockey team has a new coach. Andrews takes the helm after the retirement of Lil Shelton, who started the program at the Anne Arundel County school in 1975.
Over that time, Severna Park's teams won 20 state championships -- a national record. Now Andrews, who was first hired by Shelton in 1986 and has worked as her assistant off and on for 13 of the past 27 years, will try to take the program's tradition and winning ways into the future.
"Ann Sweeney -- that's what I call her because she was with me right out of college, before she was married," Shelton said. "Ann has been with me forever. She knows what we've done and how we do it and she can maintain what we've established. I'm really pleased she's taking over."
Andrews does know, which is why her team will continue to do the chants, as well as the dribble, jog and sprint drills on Mondays and work even harder during the week than they have before.
It's why when the players test her boundaries by doing things Andrews knows they would never do in front of Shelton -- things like talking when she's trying to make a point, looking at their cell phones and giggling -- she cuts them off immediately.
"Lil has built something special here," Andrews, 50, said. "And I feel lucky to be working with teenage girls. It's a blessing and my goal is to maintain what she has built. Lil's philosophy is that you achieve through hard work and that everyone has to work together. And I agree. It's good for them to know there is something bigger than yourself. What's bigger? The team is bigger, whether it wins a title or not."
But this is Severna Park and expectations again will be high this season. The Falcons, who won the 2011 Class 4A state championship, return 13 seniors and five starters to a team that is ranked No. 5 in The Baltimore Sun's preseason poll.
Most of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference teams are expected to be strong this season, and the squads in Anne Arundel County seem to be improved overall. Perennial powerhouses in other counties -- Catonsville and Hereford in Baltimore; Westminster in Carroll; North Harford and Patterson Mill in Harford; and Glenelg and Mount Hebron in Howard -- should continue their success.
Garrison Forest, which won the IAAM A Conference with an 18-1-2 record in 2011, returns nine starters and is ranked No. 1 to start the season.
Glenelg, the top team in the final poll last season, returns seven key players and is looking for a third straight Class 2A state championship. The Gladiators, however, won't have two-time All-Metro Player of the Year Alyssa Parker, who graduated after becoming the second player in National Federation history to finish a high school career with more than 100 goals and 100 assists.
Andrews seems undaunted, simply relishing the challenge of staying among the state's best teams.
"I know people are thinking they might be able to take advantage of us in a transition year from Lil to me and I know there will be rumblings if we don't win the title again," Andrews said. "I'm prepared if we don't win the title. But my feeling is if we make all our decisions based on what is best for our players and the team, we can't go wrong."
Andrews said she has not yet felt the pressure of stepping into Shelton's shoes, nor has she been nervous during the early days of practice. But she can't promise she'll be calm when the team opens the season against county rival Broadneck on Sept. 4.
"I might be sick to my stomach [on] game day," Andrews said.
Severna Park athletic director Wayne Mook said Andrews' background makes her the obvious choice for the job.
"Ann has tremendous knowledge of the tradition of our program and she has extensive coaching experience, having been the head coach at St. Mary's and an assistant at Archbishop Spalding," Mook said. "Not to mention her 10 years as the JV coach here before that. She's the perfect fit for the job."
Broadneck's Jen Parks, a friend as well as a rival coach, said she doesn't expect Severna Park to have any negative reaction to Andrews.
"Ann is a great coach," Parks said. "Severna Park is a perennial power and I don't expect that to change."
"There have been a few changes," Falcons junior goalie Liz Mata said. "But they're not bad. We're coming into a new era. Before the season I wondered what would change, but I wasn't scared about it. Sweeney has been here for the last two years. We all trusted Sweeney."
Severna Park will continue to have their team bagel breakfasts the morning of every game. They'll also have their almost weekly team dinners and continue their tradition of chanting in pregame warm-ups.
But the Falcons know from their history that it is the hard work they do that wins games and while Andrews' style is different, the substance is the same.
"She has the same philosophy, dedication and commitment," said Amy McKusky, who was hired by Shelton in 2001 and moved up to the varsity assistant position this season. "I think it has really been an easy transition."