By Al Mattei


You can tell Kajee Murangi on a hockey field.

Especially on turf, where Silver Spring Springbrook (Md.) clinched its first state championship in 2003.

Murangi is the one who, unlike almost every field hockey player in the state of Maryland, caresses the ball rather than takes the first opportunity to strike a hard pass to a faraway player.

She does stand out amongst the rest of the players on Springbrook, since she learned how to play the game of field hockey in an environment different from the rest of her peers.

Murangi is a native of Namibia, a former German colony which had been occupied by South Africa until the late 1980s.

The country gained its independence in 1990, but political struggles in the country as well regional instability in places like Zimbabwe and The Congo made her family consider emigration.

The family settled in Arizona, then moved to Silver Spring in time for Kajee's junior year in 2002. She made an immediate impact with her skills.

"Field hockey is not very big in Namibia; rugby, cricket, and soccer are," Murangi says. "I played for the school national team, but the education is better here."

The team's fortunes, already turning around because of the presence of a good youth program, skyrocketed. However, there was the matter of getting everyone to believe that they could win a state championship.

By the time Springbrook made the 15-minute drive to the University of Maryland for the state championship final, the team was, believe or not, the favorite to win the 4A title. The Blue Devils were playing Gaithersburg Quince Orchard in the final, and the teams had met in the regular season with Springbrook a decisive victor.

"We knew they were going to be ready for us," Murangi said. "We beat them last time, but we knew that we were going to be under stress."

The game was as competitive and tense as any ever played in the Maryland state finals. Much was at stake, including the value of the youth program as well as the perception that field hockey was weak in extreme eastern Montgomery County.

The contest turned on some umpiring judgments regarding yellow cards. Quince Orchard was down to nine players when Springbrook took a one-goal lead late in regulation, and had just gotten one of them back when they tied the match.

Murangi herself was the target of umpire discipline.

"I couldn't understand why I got the card," she said of her first-half booking. "But you know how in soccer, you reflexively use the free arm? I guess that's what happened."

But Murangi shone late in the second half and in overtime. Her ball skills allowed the Blue Devils to retain possession and to create good odd-man breaks in the offensive end. Without her, the overtime goal by Katie Klass would not have been scored.