After graduating a talented group of seniors that took the program to a region final, Atlee knew that it would be fielding a younger field hockey team this season that needed to grow into its responsibilities.
So far, the Raiders have stepped up to the challenge, a 2-1 victory over Mechanicsville on Tuesday providing that measuring stick.
“We lost a great group of seniors last year who were great players and great leaders, so it’s been really fun watching some of our underclassmen really step into some leadership roles,” Atlee coach Heather Hodges said. “They’re really starting to take ownership of some spaces, which is great.”
The Mustangs (6-2) shut the Raiders (8-3) out for a 1-0 overtime victory in the two teams’ first meeting of the season on Sept. 29.
Madi Butler opened scoring on Tuesday night for Mechanicsville, and Brooke Nichols was fearless in the cage, but Atlee was able to capitalize on its corner opportunities to pull out the victory.
Hodges said her team was disappointed by the September loss but came back ready to play, and their aggression and discipline were rewarded on the field.
The two goal scorers for Atlee, juniors Lilian Chamberlain and Mandy Hazelgrove, have been consistent highlights and a testament to the team’s young talent.
Chamberlain, who knocked in the game-winning goal through a scrum in front of the cage, has been a force on the attack. Her offensive production was highlighted by a hat trick against Patrick Henry.
“She’s been really helpful on the attack in setting up our press efficiently and quickly while getting everyone set up where they need to be,” Hodges said. “She’s also really creative in the circle and good at making things happen.”
Hodges described midfielder Hazelgrove as a patient, calm player. Along with providing some big block tackles for the Raiders, her field vision enables her to step up on the attack as well.
Along with scoring the tying goal in the second quarter, a stick save from Hazelgrove kept the Mustangs from typing it up late in the fourth.
But she still didn’t feel like it was her best game — her eyes were on returning the shutout.
“I feel like I let a goal in, scored one, then I saved one, so I’m pretty proud of that, although it’s not my best work,” Hazelgrove said.
Hazelgrove said she and her teammates knew they would have to elevate their play to take on the gaps left by the graduating seniors, and their success so far this season validates their effort.
“It feels amazing. We are so proud of our team,” Hazelgrove said. “We have a strong bond, especially since we have to step up this year because our seniors carried a lot, but we’re doing so much better than I could have imagined.”
The Atlee-Mechanicsville series also represented a full-circle moment for Hazelgrove. Last season, the Raiders lost when they hosted the Mustangs, then won the rematch.
Atlee goalkeeper Marissa Perry is one of a handful of seniors on the team (the others are Sarah Cordrey, Karina Griffin and Kara Kaegi) and has provided a steady presence that has helped lift the Raiders.
“I’m going to be sad when Marissa graduates,” Hazelgrove said. “She’s such a good goalie, we’re really going to have to step up next year when she’s gone, too.”
Atlee 0 1 0 1 — 2
Mechanicsville 0 1 0 0 — 1
Goals: ATL — Lilian Chamberlain, Mandy Hazelgrove; MECH — Madi Butler
Assists: ATL — Olivia Ritter
Saves: ATL — Marissa Perry 4; MECH — Brooke Nichols 5