Essex Community College's lacrosse players turned green with envy when they saw those rings given to the champions.
That was two years ago, after Essex bowed to Nassau (N.Y.) CC in the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game. The Nassau players left with rings. The Essex players left runners-up.
"The kids came back here hungry," said Essex coach Tim Puls. "They saw the rings the champions wore and wanted them. They put a picture of the awards ceremony in our locker room. They became focused and dedicated."
What happened next warmed Puls' heart. Essex put together a perfect campaign last season by marching to the NJCAA championship, beating Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC, 20-19, in overtime. The Knights finished 16-0.
It was Essex's sixth national junior college championship, its first in lacrosse.
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, as far as chemistry and focus were concerned," said Puls, who enters this year with a 10-year record of 109-43 at Essex.
"That's what we need this season to be successful, team chemistry. We have to avoid the marshmallow effect -- going soft after a national championship. If we don't have that chemistry again, we could wind up in the middle of the pack."
Voters in the NJCAA's preseason poll apparently think Essex will have that chemistry. They put Essex first, followed by Herkimer and Nassau. Catonsville CC, the only other Maryland school in the Top 10, is No. 7.
Heading the list of Essex's returnees is Andy Martin. A first-team JuCo All-America midfielder last year, he amassed 63 goals and 26 assists and was the MVP of the national tournament after scoring six goals in the championship game.
Also back are attackman Sean Heffernan, who had 50 goals and 41 assists, and midfielders Jamie Carver (21, 29), Chad Christian (12, 10) and J.P. McMillan (12, 12). Defensemen Rob Troy and Sean O'Connell return, along with Vince Rose, one of the three goalies Puls employed last year. Among the newcomers are midfielders Chris Farmer, Zach Thornton and Bret Blackwell.