The reports of Mount Hebron's decline in boys lacrosse have been greatly exaggerated.
Sure, the Vikings lost seven All-County players to graduation. And the Vikings come into the season with a lot of question marks. But after getting off to an impressive 2-1 start, make no mistake about it: Hebron is still the team to beat. Coach Warren Michael stands a good chance of going through his fourth straight season undefeated against the county.
"He (Michael) does a nice job with the talent he has," said Howard coach Dan Ross, whose Lions should give the Vikings a good run for the county title. "They're a well-disciplined, well-coached team."
If Hebron does repeat as county champs, the team will probably againbe chased closely by Howard and possibly by Hammond. Howard has a strong team laden with senior leadership, while Hammond has the talent to erase last year's disappointing 2-5 county record.
And Howard and Hammond couldn't ask for better cooperation from the schedule. Hebron travels to Hammond in nine days to open the league schedule, theninvades Howard on April 19. The county title could be decided that week. The Golden Bears and Lions must be glad they're getting Hebron early, while the Vikings are still working out their kinks.
The rest of the county shapes up as second fiddle to the big boys. Centennial and Oakland Mills suffered some key losses to graduation and don't appear to have filled the positions with the same talent or experience. Wilde Lake looks similar to last year's competitive but losing team, and Atholton and Glenelg are trying to rebound from seasons in thecellar. Last year's doormats could be this year's surprises.
Hereis a closer look at the county teams:
Until last week, Wendell Thomas had every reason to approach his 13th season at Atholton with shaky expectations. The Raiders return seven starters from last year's team, but Atholton slumped to a 1-13 record with that team,including 0-7 against the county.
Thomas' expectations may have soared Tuesday, after the Raiders shocked 16th-ranked South Carroll with a 7-6 victory in Atholton's first win of the year.
"We played our best game in three years. This is the best thing that could have happened to us," Thomas said. "Coming off a season like last year, then starting 0-2, you don't know if that next win is ever going to come. It's nice to know we can play a strong team and beat them. We've got confidence now."
The Raiders also have some good players, beginning with 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior attackman John Milstead. He was Atholton's brightest spot last year, when he racked up 42 goals. He'llbe counted on to spark the offense again. Milstead wasn't even available for the South Carroll game.
He won't have to shoulder too much of the offensive load, though. Returning junior attackman Alex Flecker and newcoming junior attackmen Jimmy Smith and Brian Pertman should supply scoring help. Pertman has scored in each of the Raiders first three games. Smith's goal won the South Carroll game with 40 seconds remaining.
Atholton also looks solid at midfield, although its depth is questionable. Junior returnee Norman Flecker and senior returnees Kevin Huber, Marty Rodden and John Holmes -- the last, a 6-foot, 190-pound converted defenseman -- give Thomas the pieces to form a good first unit.
The Raiders' biggest question mark is defense. Senior Andy Blanco returns to start, but he'll be assisted by two newcoming sophomores -- Josh Harrold and David Koch -- and senior Greg O'Shea, a transfer from South Carolina and an excellent athlete. Junior goalie Andy Schlossberg is also back. He was a hero in Atholton's upset of South Carroll, with a career-high 20 saves.
"I can't even project what we'll do, because of the big changes I've seen after a fewgames," Thomas said. "I'm hoping for a .500 season. If we play with the intensity we showed against South Carroll, we could go places."
The Eagles have relied on a strong defense while gettingby with a weak attack for the last few years under 14-year coach Mike Siegert. This year's team has the same look.
All-County midfielder Jamie Flynn graduated, taking one-third (37 goals, 11 assists) of the offense with him. Attackman Jeff Zawacki, the team's second-leading scorer, also has graduated.
That leaves senior crease attackmanJeff Freimanis, one of only four returning starters -- and the Eagles' third-leading scorer last year -- to pick up where Flynn left off.The rest of the starting attack, junior newcomers H.J. Holt and BillAlborn, is unproven.
Centennial's strong suit should be at midfield, where junior Cullen Meade and sophomore Werner Krueger return to start. Both have above-average skills, and Meade is the team's fastest middie. Junior newcomer Danny Ahn will start at the other midfield spot.