The Essex Community College lacrosse program has come a long way since the day when then assistant coach Tim Puls squirmed through a 25-4 loss to Anne Arundel.
In his 10th season as the Knights' head coach, Puls can't go any higher than his team did Saturday, when Essex completed a 16-0 season by becoming the first Maryland team to win the National Junior College Athletic Association lacrosse championship. The 20-19 overtime victory over Herkimer County (N.Y.) was the first NJCAA title for an Essex men's team since 1974, when the Knights ruled in soccer.
Herkimer was seeking its third NJCAA title in four years. The Generals' reputation was quite familiar to Essex, which was making its fourth straight final four appearance and fifth in the last six years. Essex lost last year's championship game to Nassau, which it disposed of this time in Friday's semifinals.
A pair of midfielders from Edgewood High played huge roles for Essex. Freshman Andy Martin got the winning goal in Saturday's title game at Catonsville, and sophomore Derrick Allender was named the NJCAA Player of the Year.
"He's the most accurate shooter I've ever coached," Puls said of Allender, who will spend one more semester at Essex.
Allender was joined on the NJCAA all-star squad by Martin and Sean Chenworth, a sophomore defenseman from Calvert Hall. The second team included another Calvert Hall grad, sophomore Joe DiNenna, and Brian Kelly, a sophomore midfielder from Towson who last season played for Hopkins.
Puls, 36, used many Harford County products, like Allender and Martin, to build his program. Harford Community College, with former Edgewood High coach Frank Mezzanotte in charge, got into the lacrosse business this spring, but Puls isn't overly concerned.
"In the past couple of years, we've had some great players from Harford County, but the overall number of kids we've had from there has actually dropped," Puls said. "We're getting more and more kids from the MSA. Not the great ones, but some solid players."