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The Fairfax High School field hockey team continued its undefeated season with a 4-0 win against Herndon this past Saturday to capture a first-place finish at the 17th annual Herndon Invitational Tournament.

It marked the Rebels’ first-ever triumph in the eight-team competition, which was staged in conjunction with National Field Hockey Day — a new concept introduced this year by USA Field Hockey.

Senior Shannon Cosgrove, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, broke the ice 10 minutes into the game with a powerful shot near the edge of the circle, and two second-half goals from junior Emily Freeman secured the Rebels’ 10th win of the season.

Fairfax has shown no signs of letting up despite graduating 11 seniors from last year’s team and inserting seven new players into the starting lineup. Even with a back line composed almost entirely of sophomores, the Rebels have surrendered just one goal with five games left before the Liberty District Tournament rolls around. Three Rebels were named to the all-tournament team: Cosgrove, Freeman and Sam Zelenack.

“Last year, we had the strongest team I think I’ve ever had,” said 13th-year coach Amber Beaudoin, referring to the 2011 squad that finished 15-7. “So for this team to be playing as well as they are is amazing. Everybody said it was a rebuilding year, but I think we’re reloading.”

The team’s chemistry became evident before the regular season even began, as they defeated several area teams to win the Capital Summer League. All the immediate success has caught even the players by surprise.

“We have a team full of sophomores, so we were expecting to come on at the end of the season,” said Cosgrove, who led the tournament with six goals to bring her season total to 13. “But we’ve actually been undefeated all season, so it’s felt great.”

First-year Herndon coach Mary Miller, meanwhile, did well to guide the Hornets to their first championship appearance in their own tournament. A 3-2 loss in penalty strokes against Marshall was offset by a pair of shutout wins against Battlefield and Washington-Lee, vaulting them to a matchup against Fairfax that played out closer than the final score might have indicated.

The loss dropped Herndon to 6-3 on the season, already a dramatic improvement for a team that hasn’t managed to put together more than seven wins during any of the past three seasons. Three Hornets made the all-tournament team: Sofia Palacios, Taylor Stone and Annie Kelley.

Miller, who has returned to coaching after spending the past eight years away from the sideline, credits the improvement, in part, to her team’s blend of leadership and young talent.

“It’s nice because you have your leadership, you have your juniors who are kind of the connection between that, and you have some sophomores who are new and some sophomores who played varsity last year as freshmen,” Miller said. “It’s a nice balance to have.”

Overall, tournament organizers agreed Herndon’s unique position of providing two turf fields combined with the weekend’s nice weather made for a successful event for everyone involved. The championship game’s parallel to National Field Hockey Day made the event even more special, as organizers helped promote USA Field Hockey’s mission of increasing awareness and participation for the sport. Youth players wearing their league jerseys were allowed free admission on the first day of games.

It all contributed to a movement that has gained traction in the U.S., where field hockey existed as a mere novelty until recent years. Competition at the high school level continues to improve as more and more local clubs and Olympic development programs prompt girls to pick up the sport at younger ages. Many of Fairfax’s players participate year-round for Burke Athletic Club, while Herndon’s players take part in local clubs such as Rampage, Potomac and Capitol Pegasus.

“It’s just high profile for field hockey,” said Charlie Palacios, a tournament organizer and father of Herndon sophomore Sofia. “Being from Europe I’m used to field hockey being very high profile anyway, so it’s nice to see it get some attention here in the States. A lot more girls are playing here, and it’s just great to see.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com