When it comes to the run-and-gun in lacrosse, the county girls coaches are unanimous: They don't like it and they don't plan to use it.
"I hate it, and I hate to coach against it," says Stacy Stem of South Carroll.
In recent years, some of the top teams in the state have disdained the traditional passing attack for a more individualized dodging game.
"It's real hard to defend against," says Stem. "And I guess that's why they use it, although I guess you can't blame the coaches; Iknow some of the kids just want to go to the goal."
North Carrollcoach Stacey Abeles agrees, although her Panthers were forced into that style of play when they went up against Severna Park of Anne Arundel County last year.
"We sort of beat them at their own game," she says. "But I had one player I could do that with. They were shellshocked."
Westminster's Suzanne Davie Peters said, "I do not coach my players to play that way. I have a kid who can do it, too. My philosophy is, I would like to win. But I'm coaching to teach the game, which is a team sport, not an individual one."
Coach Courtney Vaughnof Liberty says, "It's a passing game and it's pretty when it's played that way." But she admits a fear that her insistence on plays "might hurt us." She is another coach who faces temptation, in the form of sophomore midfielder Megan Horneman, one of the county's fastest players.
Says Abeles, "You're always going to have one or two attackplayers who could take the ball and run 90 mph down the field, but my feeling is the best team is the one who who uses all 12 players."
And coaches can take solace in the fact that they're preparing players for college-level play, where the run-and-gun just doesn't work as well.
Western Maryland College coach Kim Easterday says, "In thecollege game, one real fast girl isn't going to do it for you. Thereare defenses that can be used to stop them."
One thing is apparent on county teams: The passing game has become one to be reckoned with, thanks to the players' ever-increasing level of skills.
Liberty's had a two-year grip on the county girls lacrosse title, and that success has translated into strong student interest in Eldersburg.
But Abeles is looking past the county crown -- she thinks her Panthers have a shot at a state title as North Carroll and Liberty drop fromthe 3A-4A (big school) division to the 1A-2A class for smaller schools. And South Carroll hopes to parlay its field hockey success into astrong showing in the spring.
Western Maryland College, meanwhile, will face a tough Middle Atlantic Conference schedule while trying to rebound from last year's 3-6 season.
If tryouts are a measure of what's to come, Liberty should do well. Forty-fivegirls tried out, and Vaughn said all but two have experience.
"Wewant to go for the county title again," says Vaughn. "We've won it the past two years, we want to make it three."
The team has a good chance to do just that, with a solid defense anchored by third-year starter and all-county goalie Dani Fostik.
"We'll really concentrate on the transition game," says Vaughn. "That's where we break down."
North Carroll Panthers
Despite losing top scorers Vicki Williams and Bridget Harris from a 10-2 team that was a state semifinalist last year, Abeles oozes confidence. When asked what she'll do differently this year, she says, "We plan to win the states."
Her confidence is well placed. The attack boasts returning seniors Danielle Miller, Amy Eggers and Gina Christiani. Her defense is solid, anchored byreturning seniors Jen Rothlingshofer, Stephanie Vaughn, Jen Mead andJill Culver.
"I think we have a strong program at North Carroll and we've had a strong turnout," says Abeles.
She's also happy about the leadership. "We've got seven seniors, and they know the game. This team is very intelligent on the field. We're going to come out with a lot of different offenses to throw teams off. My attack is pretty much set."
She doesn't even face the usual whipping-them-into-shape-in-March woes, since six of her players competed in an indoor league in Catonsville during the winter.
South Carroll Cavaliers
"Most of my kids are already using both hands, and we've only had a week's practice. That's a good sign," says Stem, who adds "my defense is hurting this year."
Stem jokes her team "will have to score a lot," but with attackers such as Erin Eaton and Julie Langlois, that should happen.
Stem hopes rookie goalie Hilary Griffith will anchor the defense. "She's real aggressive and she's not afraid of anything," says Stem.
Perhaps more important is the attitude, and Stem thinks her players have a good one. Her field hockey team won the state title, and many of those girls are playing lacrosse.
The Westminster schedule includes Mount Hebron and Centennial, two Howard County powers.
"We're shooting for .500, and with the new playoff system, we'll see where we get," says Peters. "In the county, I think it's anybody's game. You just never know. I never want tomake a prediction."
Peters has a small core of seniors back and "a lot of talented players, but they need experience."
She sees speed in the midfield, especially center Judie Marcus. Juniors Anitha Naganna and Mary Muller will guide the attack.
"I've had two talented teams and we've not been able to get it together," she says of recent seasons characterized by one- and two-goal losses. "I don't want any more gray hairs."
WMC Green Terrors
Easterday is cautious about her team's prospects, given the loose ends that must be tied up defensively.
"I think we have more depth," she says. "We graduated a lot of defense. Our goalie graduated and our backup goalie did not return to school. If we can get a solid defense and a goalie, it willbe OK."
Easterday plans to try seniors Lisa Franklin and Libby Bieling in the goal. Neither has played before, but both wanted to try.