More Harford County teams than ever could be headed to the playoffs in boys lacrosse. Three of them, C. Milton Wright, North Harford and Fallston, should battle it out for the county crown.
Just on the basis of its returning talent, C. Milton Wright has to be the favoritein the county title race. But Fallston and North Harford are also capable of grabbing the top spot.
A change in the state playoff format brings the lacrosse playoffsmore in line with other sports. Instead of taking the top eight point-totals in each class, four regional championships will be held in each class, with the winners advancing to the state final four.
In Class 3A/4A, Aberdeen, Bel Air and C. Milton Wright are in a region with Atholton, Centennial and Howard, of Howard County, and Westminster and South Carroll, of Carroll County. In Class 1A/2A, Edgewood, Fallston, Havre de Grace, Joppatowne and North Harford are joined by Hereford in a single region.
Last year, the Mustangs (11-2) beat everyone in the county except North Harford en route to the Class 3A/4A playoffs, where they fell in the opener to Annapolis, 9-4.
Carl Greenberg's squad has lost some major talent -- middies Israel Sostrin and Rich Heckner, attackman Rob Heagerty and defenseman Chris Shue. But there is also a lot of talent returning.
Chris Lloyd, Brian Moenand Corey Lambroff started or saw a lot of action on attack last year. Middies Scott Panowitz, Joe Milano and Josh Peters also had a lot of playing time. Ryan Arist is back to lead the defense, while goalieAndy Wishart looks like the top keeper in the county.
Greenberg is worried about his transition game, but his solid defense should make up for any problems there.
The schedule gives the Mustangs plenty of time to prepare for their top two challengers -- they will not face North Harford and Fallston until the last two games of the season.
No matter how much rebuilding John Grubb has to do, he always seems to make North Harford a contender.
Last year, the Hawks (13-3)lost considerable talent from their 1990 state title team, but won the county title and advanced to the state Class 1A/2A championship game. The Hawks barely missed defending their title, falling, 8-7, in overtime to Mount Hebron.
Now, Grubb faces an even bigger challenge. Gone are super middies Brett Schreiber and Tim Lucky and the exceptional defensive unit of Chris Gress, Jason Ketner and Chris Beall, aswell as goalie Tom Murrell.
North Harford's only returning starters are senior attackmen Chuck Kelly and Bruce Axelsson. Kelly (30 goals, 14 assists) led the Hawks in scoring last year, but much of that scoring came from midfield.
"Last year, we were basically defense-oriented," Grubb explained. "I told them this year they're going to have to score 12 goals a game to be successful. Last year, we gave up 3.5, so this is a complete reversal."
One of the Hawks' toughest games last season came in the state quarterfinals, where they struggled to beat Fallston, 7-6.
The Cougars have lost seven starters fromthat squad, but coach John Conley still has a wealth of talent. He probably has more depth than anyone else in the county.
"We're headand shoulders above where we were last year at this time. We have a lot of talent from JV, and the younger kids
who were on varsity and didn't play much have matured. I like to think we're one of the contenders in the county, if not in the state."
Nick Gesell and JasonAlford will lead the defense, while Joe Poling, Ryan Caldwell, BrianAustin, Dan Bower and Pete Dixon all return at midfield, and freshman Todd Paradise is expected to step right in. Attackmen Ryan Wegeler,Brad Baker and Zack Karantonis also return.
Potentially, the onlyweak spot for the Cougars is in goal, where Conley has not selected a starter.