For 30 minutes, the Winston Churchill Bulldogs field hockey team were a hot knife slicing through the brisk Halloween winds and the Quince Orchard Cougars defense. Either the ball was on their sticks or in the back of the Cougars’ cage as by halftime they led 6-0 and had yet to allow the Cougars in their circle.
Fueled by a determination to get back to the state quarterfinals and a hint of nervous energy as they’d narrowly escaped against the Cougars in the regular season 1-0, the Bulldogs went to work in practice all week on the details to avoid another close contest.
“[We worked on] a lot of specific little things,” Bulldogs Head Coach Cay Miller said. “A lot of it was focusing on ourselves and what we’ve had issues with in recent games in order to be our strongest coming out today. But also knowing this is one of the best teams in Montgomery County. We had to play our best.”
Practice is what junior forward Julieta ‘Julie’ Matus credited for her hat-trick performance.
“We have really been putting the work in at practice,” Matus said. “We’ve worked on different drills, specific tactics and I think it’s really paid off with our results. You practice like you play.”
A key factor in Matus’ three-goal game was the constant midfield and defensive pressure from junior midfielder Emma Datch, who assisted on Matus’ first goal.
“Always having another chance to just keep on going and keep on pushing,” Matus said. “I think it was really good, always having that help. The extra support from the defense and midfield, even if we lose a ball.”
That defensive play turned into offense, where Datch found Matus for the opening goal, which her teammates deem ‘The Julie Special.’
“Julie did a great job calling for the ball and having her stick down,” Datch said. “We call it ‘The Julie Special.’ She’s always in the right place at the right time, so I gave her the ball and she finished.”
It’s been a name for Matus’ clever positioning and skill for over a season now, according to Coach Miller.
“[Julieta] has a real knack and skill for carrying the ball in a dangerous way in the circle,” Miller said. “Dangerous for the other team. Good for us.”
With the Bulldogs winning on home field, it marked a perfect record for Datch, who never lost a home game in her three seasons at Winston Churchill. Miller spoke on her senior’s game not only against the Cougars, but overall.
“Emma’s a player who can do it all,” Miller said. “If you want her to hit a big ball up the field, she can do it. If you want her to score a goal, she can do it. If you want her play defense she can do it. And she gives every play her all. You can’t ask for more.”
With their seventh-straight regional championship, Miller took a moment to enjoy the victory but is remained focused on the state tournament.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Miller said. “I feel like we’ve come really far since August and I’m really excited to see where we go.”
Next up for Winston Churchill is a home game against the Clarksburg Coyotes (7-5) at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
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