NDP hockey starts season 6-0

by Nelson Coffin

Katrina Ross appears to have a magic touch when it comes to making Notre Dame Prep field hockey a force in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.

In just over a year’s work at the Towson all-girls Catholic school, Ross has recast the program into something very special.

And that includes the 2017 campaign in which the seventh-ranked Blazers are off to a sizzling 6-0 start with wins over Top-20 opponents Garrison Forest (No. 10), Maryvale (17) and C. Milton Wright (20). They also own triumphs over A Conference rival Bryn Mawr and public school foes Bel Air and Paint Branch to their credit.

The Blazers are now fifth in the VSN Top 20 after moving up two spots from the preseason rankings.

The NDP Blazers are off to a 6-0 start in 2017 and currently ranked No. 5 in the VSN Field Hockey Top 20.

Last season, Ross took a squad that had posted a 7-7 mark in 2015 and had not had a winning season since 2012 to the A Conference championship match, when it lost on an untimed play at the end of regulation to McDonogh.

She said that the turning point last year was a 4-2 victory over Garrison Forest that gave her an inkling of how good the team could be.

“I could see that they had a lot of good young talent,” Ross said. “I knew when we beat Garrison that we had a pretty good team. We hadn’t beaten them in a long time, so that was really exciting.”

When the season ended with the gut-wrenching loss to the Eagles in the championship match, she set a good example for the team by handling it with aplomb instead of apoplexy.

“The biggest thing I can do as a coach is to be a good role model for these young women,” Ross said.

Still, NDP finished with a 14-5 record and plenty of motivation to earn the school’s first IAAM field hockey crown in November.

“I think it’s the mentality that coach Ross has brought to the team for us,” said senior forward/midfielder Sam Nason, a tri-captain with senior defender Mary Kate Fitz-Patrick and junior midfielder/defender Rachel Borzymowski. “The team has taken a big step toward a more positive mentality. We approach every practice and game with a positive mindset. As a team, we’re always depending on each other and pushing each other to higher standards.”

Fitz-Patrick said that the near-miss in the championship game last season has also been a motivating factor for a team longing to take the final step to the top of the IAAM mountain.

“I think it kind of makes us hungry even more,” Fitz-Patrick said. “Last year, we were kind of the underdogs to win the championship. This year, there’s a target on our back. Everyone wants to beat NDP because we were the team nobody expected to be great, but we were great. Our team is going to come back even stronger this year.”

Despite her low-key sideline demeanor, Ross, who played field hockey in high school (Centennial) and college (Temple) and coached at Towson University and Temple, has ramped up her players’ desire to excel to the point as they thrive in a closely-knit group dynamic.

“Starting from team unity, we’re all really super close,” Fitz-Patrick said. “We are super excited to come to practice. Every game, no matter if you’re in the game or off the field, you’re cheering as loud as you can and being super supportive of your teammates.”

Ross has also preached the art of not taking any opponent lightly, a factor that could have played a part in last week’s battle against B Conference power Maryvale.

After the Blazers jumped out on top in the 11th minute on a goal by freshman forward Morgan Johnson, assisted by sophomore forward/midfielder Meredith Medvetz, the Lions roared back to knot the score on a goal by junior Olivia Cerasoli with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Instead of pushing the panic button, the Blazers pushed forward to snap the tie when Borzymowski converted a feed from junior midfielder Nathalie Friedman to retake the lead with just under two minutes left in the opening period.

After that, Maryvale’s next-best scoring opportunity was spoiled by sophomore goalie Sasha Dennis, who turned away a rocket shot before it could smack the back of the cage.

Dennis and the team’s other goalie, freshman Brooke Borzymowski, undoubtedly took comfort in having senior defenders Olivia Kenny and Alyssa Ritchie patrolling the defensive third.

Regardless, the Blazers eventually iced the game when a Medvetz goal made it 3-1 with five minutes, 30 seconds to go in regulation.

“We never go into a game with a mindset that we have it all, and we’re just going to take this one,” Borzymowski said. “It can all be taken from us in a second, so every time we step out on the field we always play our hardest.”

Picture above and featured in the video below (from left) are captains Sam Nason, Rachel Borzymowski and Mary Kate Fitz-Patrick.