Mount Hebron High School's girls lacrosse team spent most of the spring mastering its opponents.
Hebron's speed, stickwork and nearly unstoppable ball-control attack overmatched teams in a way that surprised even the Vikings, a young team that reclaimed the county championship easily and began its quest for an elusive state title with a 30-10 quarterfinal playoff rout of Overlea.
But Tuesday in the Class 1A/2A state semifinals against defendingstate champion Loch Raven (Baltimore County), the Vikings once againfound themselves in a familiar postseason role -- that of the pupil futilely chasing the master.
"They were three of four kids better than us, matchup-wise," said Vikings coach P.J. Kesmodel, after Loch Raven outran, outshot and outplayed the talented Vikings en route to an easy 15-9 victory.
"They're well-coached, they've got great skills, great athleticism, and they're in great condition.
"That's a tough combination to beat," Kesmodel added. "We lost to the best teamin the state. They're just better than we are."
Kesmodel, who hascoached the Vikings (11-3) to three county titles and playoff appearances in each of the four seasons the county has fielded a girls lacrosse program, is now 0-for-4 in state title attempts over that span.
In Kesmodel's first two years, the Vikings made it to the state final, then lost decisively to Southern (Anne Arundel County).
Last year, Loch Raven (14-0 with a 54-game winning streak) blocked Hebron's path with a 12-10 semifinal victory -- in a game that went down to the wire -- and then won the state title.
Tuesday, Loch Raven allowed little of the suspense that marked last spring's semifinal.
The Raiders erased a 1-0 deficit with a four-goal outburst over a nine-minute stretch, took an 8-5 halftime lead, then finished Hebron off like a state champ should.
The Vikings started the second half witha goal by Cathy Nelson (two goals) to cut Loch Raven's lead to 8-6, but the Raiders answered with a 6-3 run that gave them a commanding 14-9 lead with about five minutes left.
In between the 15 goals -- the highest total allowed by Hebron this year -- Loch Raven dazzled Hebron in every other area.
The Raiders' defense took Hebron's aggressive, man-to-man style several steps further and held Suzanne DeHaan and Megan Drake to a combined three goals.
They had combined for94 goals coming into the game.
Hebron entered the game averaging 15 goals. Loch Raven permitted only 18 Hebron shots.
Hebron was byfar the most fundamentally sound team in the county this year, but Loch Raven gave the Vikings a passing clinic to remember.
When the Raiders weren't winning draw after draw and hitting teammates in stride with excellent transition passes, they were blowing past the Vikings one-on-one in the open field. And when the Raiders decided to charge the goal, the Vikings' low defense was overmatched.
Even Kesmodel's busy substituting in the second half failed to dent Loch Raven, which stayed mostly with its starters, who weren't the least bit affected by the muggy weather.
Had it not been for a great first-half performance by Hebron goalie Beth Streagle -- who made six of her eight saves before halftime -- the Vikings might have been blown out early.
"I don't know if there's anything we could have done," Kesmodel said. "I tried to sub a lot to keep us fresh, hoping we would wear them down in the heat, but that didn't make a difference. It's discouraging, because I thought after last year we had narrowed the gap (between Hebron and Loch Raven). But the gap looks bigger."
"A lot ofus weren't that disappointed, because they are such a good team," said junior center Andrea Cuzmanes, who scored a goal and waged a spirited battle with Loch Raven center Suzie Waire (two goals, one assist)in the middle of the field.
"We hustled all the way to the end, and we never hung our heads," Cuzmanes added.
"Their passing was fantastic. They had a great transition game. The only thing we can do is work harder in the preseason and in practice on our skills. I don'twant next year to be another 'wait-until-next-year' season. I'm a senior next year."
While the Vikings think about next year, they canreflect on a season in which they exceeded many expectations, including Kesmodel's.