By Grant DeVivo
For some players on the field hockey team, it is because they get to play on AstroTurf. For others, it is because they get a home field all to themselves. Whatever the reason, the excitement around the highly anticipated Owings Mills East is real, and it hasn’t even been open for a full month yet.
The 117-acre athletic and recreational expansion sitting on Garrison Forest Road is finally seeing action after a lengthy construction. It is designed to host soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, softball, and track and field. Field hockey has been the first to explore the new space daily as they embark on the new 2022 season.
Many players can recall the first time that they stepped foot on the AstroTurf. Goalkeeper Jamie Fritz, the lone senior on this year’s squad, said the experience “was surreal.”
“I said, ‘I can’t believe this is real! Is this ours?!’ ” Fritz reminisced. “It boosted our [team’s] confidence, our excitement to get ready for the season.”
“You come out here, you see it, it’s like ‘we have our very own surface just for us,” said junior midfielder and Eldersburg, Maryland native Meghan Huey as she recalled her thoughts when taking the field for the first time. “It was amazing. There’s no other words to describe it, and I was just so excited to get out there [onto the new field].”
Simply put, everyone is in complete awe of their new home. To be more specific, the AstroTurf.
Stevenson field hockey is now just one of two teams in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, along with Messiah, to have an AstroTurf field. A flat carpet-like base that enables a faster pace-of-play, AstroTurf hits home for many of the players as it is all they have ever known throughout their careers.
“I initially heard about [Owings Mills East] when I was touring Stevenson in the fall (of 2021) to hopefully transfer here,” said sophomore attacker Alexa DeFeo, who transferred from Coastal Carolina last semester. “When the previous coach [Coach Martin] told me that we were going to have AstroTurf, I was really excited.” She cites the AstroTurf as being one of “the mai selling points” as to why she came to Stevenson.
“I played on a lot of AstroTurf games at home,” said sophomore defender Paige Wilson, a Virginia Beach, Virginia native. “Having to transition to a field turf [last season] was hard for me in my first year. Then I came back and they said ‘we’re getting AstroTurf!’ So, I was super excited because that was my home play.
“I really wanted that home away from home feel,” Wilson continued. “I think it’s just really exciting to have that fast-paced game at the college level that I wanted.”
The expansion made an impact on past recruits like Wilson and DeFeo even before it opened. Bitting believes that it will continue to impact future recruits for years to come.
“The addition of Owings Mills East is really exciting and attractive to new recruits,” said first year head coach Morgan Bitting. “Higher level players want to play on that [AstroTurf] surface.” She also mentioned how well the playing surface pairs with Stevenson’s great academic reputation and community feel within the university, further attracting recruits.
“There’s good vibes all around here, and the recruits are excited about that,” Bitting added. “We’re headed in the right direction, field hockey wise and culture wise.”
“I see each and every one of us grow every day, every game, every practice,” DeFeo commented. “It’s really awesome to see everyone grow individually and us grow as a team.”
After finishing 5-10 last season with a MAC record of 2-6, the Mustangs are off to a solid 3-1 start to the new year with win No. 1 being Bitting’s first career MAC win. They come off a well-fought 2-1 win against McDaniel College thanks to a game-winning goal from junior forward Macy Kosanovich in overtime. Is it the gift of Owings Mills East that has done the trick?
Perhaps it did, and it appears that it is the gift that keeps on giving.
“Everyone is so excited to be out here,” Huey said. “Having something to call your own and just us [field hockey players] being out here and getting out here [to Owings Mills East] when we can, everybody is so excited. We are so much more of a team. We are student athletes together; we’re one big family.”
The fans and the community have felt the impact as well. The team has been impressed with the turnout so far for the first few home games this season thanks in part to a home opener attendance of 325.
“It’s really fun to look up from the sidelines and see all the fans sitting in their lawn chairs and supporting the team,” Bitting said. “Whether they’re family members, friends, students on campus, they’re really excited about the buzz in the field hockey program right now.”
“[Owings Mills East] is all positive,” said Fritz on the new campus’ environment. “It brings a really big, great, warm welcome environment. It’s really heartwarming to see all these people come out and support us, and it will really help make our play better by playing on that surface.”
Something special is brewing within Stevenson field hockey, and everyone can feel it.
“People are going to come here and not be ready for the type of play we’re going to bring on this field,” Wilson firmly said.
Stevenson field hockey will play at Owings Mills East again tomorrow, Sept. 10. They will host Washington College at 1 p.m.