I think of Mount Hebron's boys lacrosse season, and the slogan for that high-brow investment firm comes to mind.
When the Vikings pulled off an 8-7 overtime victory Saturday to dethrone North Harford andwin the Class 1A/2A championship, they had won their fourth state title the old-fashioned way:
They earned it.
This is no slap at the previous Vikings teams,which won state crowns in 1983, 1986 and 1988, coach Warren Michael's first season. But this year's Vikings deserve an asterisk for the way they retook the state championship that had slipped through their hands the previous two springs.
The 1991 Vikings overcame circumstances and shortcomings that previous Michael-coached teams never had to confront.
Let's start with the injuries -- of which there were more this year than in Michael's three prior seasons combined. The Vikings, who saw six starters go down during the year, were never completely healthy at any time.
Senior midfielder Bob Sites, the team'sbest player and arguably the county's best when healthy, spent most of the year fighting a groin injury that forced him to miss four games. And when he did play against the county, his mobility was so limited he probably should have been on the sidelines. Sites sat out the last three regular-season games and returned just in time for the playoffs.
Senior midfielder Mike McQuaid pulled a groin muscle during preseason and was hurting for the first three games. Junior attackmanTom Huppman sat out games against Centennial and Glenelg with a thigh injury. Junior Jason Vettori started the season at midfield, but a nagging ankle injury landed him on the attack, where he wouldn't haveto run as much. Junior midfielder Clay Shiflet missed two games witha hip injury.
After Hebron got its medical house in order for theplayoffs, senior defenseman Dan Hagan -- Hebron's No. 1 faceoff man -- suffered a torn hip flexor during the Vikings' 7-4 state semifinalvictory over Towson. He watched the Vikings win it all from the sidelines on crutches.
On the non-injury front, the Vikings underwent an unexpected mid-season crisis in goal. Senior Tommy Dotsikas, unhappy with being pulled in the second half of Hebron's 9-8 upset loss toGlenelg and with Michael's decision to try junior Chris Parandian, quit the team. Parandian finished out the year, struggling at times, but ultimately making the two saves in overtime that allowed Chris Vissers the chance to score Saturday's game-winning goal.
Hebron faced other adversity. Frankly, the Vikings lacked the talent of past Hebron teams. And this year, the county finally encroached on Hebron's dominance. Hebron, after going undefeated in the league five straight seasons, finished in a second-place tie with Hammond and Glenelg, behind Howard.
This was arguably the weakest of Michael's four teams.Besides being short on speed, athletic ability and depth, it lacked the flashy skills, for instance, of the 1988 group that featured All-Metro stars Todd Sloper and Alex Berman. The next two clubs were built around Damon Vettori, who was the county's Player of the Year in 1989 and an All-Metro selection last year. Sites is that kind of player, but he couldn't show it.
The Vikings' weaknesses reflected nagging injuries to an extent. Still, Hebron had more holes than any team in recent memory.
The Vikings never seemed to hit that smooth offensive gear -- against the tough competition, that is -- that marked past attacks as unstoppable.
Some days, the Vikings were downright ugly. In their county opener at Hammond, an 11-6 Hebron victory, theyplayed for stretches so sloppy it seemed the Vikings couldn't catch a virus, much less a lacrosse ball. Their offense disappeared in the second half of the Howard loss. They started flat and stayed that wayduring Glenelg's 9-8 overtime victory.
Saturday's victory over North Harford -- the Vikings (12-3) were the only team to beat the Hawks, by the way -- typified the Vikings' season. Hebron lost 16 of 19 faceoffs, a sure-fire prescription for defeat in a sport sharply defined by possessions.
But the Vikings turned the statistics upside down throughout the playoffs. How? Good coaching, opportunistic offense, great defense and guile thrown in for good measure.
On defense, senior Nathan Kealey's aggressive checking and in-your-face marking set the tone for Hebron. The Vikings surrendered merely five goals a game this year, and only St. Paul's (a 12-7 winner) broke the 10-goal barrier against them.
The defense sagged briefly in the quarterfinals against Hammond, when it gave up six goals in the second quarter,as Hammond took a 6-5 halftime lead. But the Vikings said enough after that, and put the clamps on the Bears and midfielder Ricky Matthews. Hebron won going away, 13-8.
Then, in the semifinals against top-seeded Towson -- which brought a gaudy 11-0 record and an offense averaging some 20 goals into the game -- the Vikings ended the Generals' run with a masterful game plan and superb execution.
Against North Harford, Hebron squandered numerous possessions with bad passes, missed more open cutters, Parandian had serious trouble with his clears, and the Hawks tied the game at 7-7 with 16 seconds left in regulation -- dredging up memories of last year's semifinals, in which North Harford dumped Hebron in overtime, 8-7.
But the Vikings, who shot a tidy 8-for-18, overcame again. When McQuaid found Vissers open onthe crease for the deciding goal with 1:02 left in overtime, a delicious celebration began.
"I don't know what it is about this team. You'd look at us in games and in practice and wonder what was wrong sometimes," said Kealey. "But we've got 11 guys playing hard and 20 guys cheering hard on the sidelines all the time. We couldn't afford tolose any of our last three games so we could get to the playoffs. And we couldn't afford to lose after that. And here we are."
It seemed fitting that Kealey's nose was bleeding.