The smoke screen has been lifted at Severna Park.
"I can't make claims about us being young and inexperienced anymore," said Falcons boys lacrosse coach Ed Ulrich. "After a couple years, you have to pay the piper."
Ulrich also said what most of the other coaches in the county already suspected -- "We're loaded."
Severna Park is widely regarded as the county's top public school entry this season, and for good reason. The Falcons graduated only a couple of players from a team that won nine games and barely missed the playoffs. And most of the guys who return are exceptional.
"I'm scared to death of Ed, because Severna Park has all kinds of speed and scoring punch," said Broadneck coach Clay White. "But we haven't beaten Annapolis in the last two years, and until we get that off our backs, they are the team to beat. Isee it being Severna Park and Annapolis Nos. 1 and 2, with us trailing. But I think everyone is improved."
The coaches agree that the new post-season format is improved. The state has increased the number of teams making the playoffs in the 4A-3A and 2A-1A classificationsfrom eight to 16, with a regional tournament and state final four.
"Anne Arundel County lacrosse is on the upswing," White said. "It should be exciting."
Among the county's private schools, Rob White returns as coach at Severn after a one-year absence, and his Admiralsare expected to make a strong run at the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title. St. Mary's was the MSA A Conference runner-up last year.
The following is a look at the 1992 season, which begins today:
Anyone trying to find a weakness on the Severna Park team eventually should tire.
The attack is led by senior Mike Crawford (17 goals, 33 assists), but he's not the only threat, not with seniors Bob Evans and Scott deGraffenreid also on the field.
The midfield is deep and experienced, too. And defensively,the Falcons boast seniors Jay Gibbs, Nick Panagopoulos, Jason Campbell and Justin Perry, and junior keeper Matt Pugh.
As if they needed more help, junior midfielder David Livingston "arrived on our doorstep from Arundel," Ulrich said. He led the Wildcats in scoring last season.
The veteran coach is comfortable with the notion that his Falcons are the team to beat this year.
"I don't mind being the front-runner as long as I have the horses to keep us in front," he said."I don't want to be one if there's no real reason. But there's a reason."
There's a reason members of the Broadneck team expect to make the playoffs -- the Bruins have done so five of the last six seasons, and this group is rich in talent.
Leading scorers Steve Bruso (25 goals, 14 assists) and Mike Strohman (21, six) are back to anchor the midfield, the team's strongest position. They join fellow seniorsJohn Hanna (12, two) and Mike Fellona (nine goals).
Senior attackman Greg Jackson (14, 10) also returns, another reason White expects improvement in his offense from last season. "Hopefully, we've matured and grown up in that area," he said.
The only potential snag is a young defensive unit that White called "a question mark." But he also said that with junior Sam Peterson starting in the nets and sophomore Matt Lyttle serving as a backup, "we may be the strongest we've ever been in goal."
Annapolis coach Dan Hart has come up with a newslogan for his team -- "Hitting for the Cycle."
"In 1989 we went to the state quarterfinals, in 1990 we went all the way to the finalsand lost, in 1991 we went to the semis and lost to North County, so this year we want to knock it out of the ballpark by winning the whole thing," said Hart, who has gone 31-13 in his three years at Annapolis.
Hart's club is led by senior offensive spark plugs Dan Flynn (37 goals, 14 assists) -- a first-team All-County selection -- and JonSongey (25, 10), and junior Mike Fraioli (11, four).
The defense returns Brendan Bellotte, Jim Reed, Craig Harrison and Jack Copus. Senior Tony Knight, who Hart calls "battle-tested," has earned the starting job in goal.
The entire team will be battle-tested after opening against Broadneck, North County, Arundel, Severna Park and Southern. "If we can go 4-1, or even 3-2, after our first five games, I think we'll be in pretty good shape for the rest of the year," Hart said.
Class 4A-3A state runner-up North County returns just four starters -- midfielders Andy Ross (13 goals, 10 assists) and Shawn Moyer and attackmen Greg Sabo (15, 15) and Andy Mocharsky (five, 11) -- and Coach Paul Shea knows county rivals are licking their chops.
In addition, eight of the last 10 teams coached by Shea and assistant Jon Appelt have made the playoffs, six have reached the final four, and four have been state finalists.
"Moyer, Sabo and Ross have played on two state finalist teams, so they're the leaders, but I don't expect them to carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and try to do it all," said Shea, whose last two teams -- including Andover two seasons ago -- are a combined 22-4.