If there was any doubt that Fallston is the team to beat in county girls lacrosse, the Cougars erased it Friday with a 19-8 victory over Joppatowne.
The Cougars, coming off a 14-1 season and an appearance in the state Class 1A/2A final, are four-time defending county champs. Only Joppatowne appeared to have a shot at them.
Mariners coach Pam Reich had hoped blazing speed at midfield and attack would give her squad an advantage over Fallston. But the Cougars returned too much power on attack, along with the best goalie in the county.
The Cougars, however, will have to win their second meeting with Joppatowne on April 10, if they plan to defend their countytitle. The April regular-season game is the only one that will matter in the county standings.
The Cougars and Mariners might even meet a third time, in the regional playoffs. The state playoff format has changed this year to include a regional championship. The regional winners, four each in Class 1A/2A and Class 3A/4A, will advance to the state semifinals.
The new format brings lacrosse more in line with other sports.
In Class 1A/2A, Fallston and Joppatowne are in a region with Edgewood, North Harford and Overlea. In Class 3A/4A, Aberdeen, Bel Air and C. Milton Wright are in a region with Dundalk, Kenwood, Parkville and Perry Hall.
For Fallston, having goalie Tammy Kloiber back is a major factor. She notched a 66 percent save rate last year, and is one of the top goalies in the Baltimore area.
The Cougars also return Cindy Jenkins, who led the county in scoring with 65 goals and 19 assists. Jenkins, a junior, is the playmaker.
Coach Nancy Ferguson also returns Denise Sarver, Jenny Haslbeck, Kendall Reichart and Natalie Dwyer on attack, as well as Jenny Colt and Kristina Lilley on defense. The five starters lost should be replaced by the returnees or a talented crop of youngsters that includes two freshmen.
Player for player, Fallston looks like the better team, but Joppatowne has speed -- the one weapon the Cougars fear.
Seniors Lisa Aquino and Chrissy Maly should lead the attack. They'll use that speed to stay one step ahead of the opposing defense, but they both have solid stick skills and field sense.
Coach Pam Reich lost only four starters from last year's 9-2 squad that fell to Pikesville, 20-19, in the state quarterfinal. They have experience all over the field, plus some talented newcomers moving up -- including three freshmen.
Heading the defense will be seniors Denise Barnes, Christine Bass, Lydia Rehrig and Jen Francis. Junior Betzi Faust returns in goal.
Beyond the top two, C. Milton Wright and Bel Air should be in a battle for third with upstart North Harford, the league's most improved team.
The Mustangs lost most of their starters, but they do returngoalie Sara Sloop, who could keep them in a lot of games. Bel Air has only two starters back and is rebuilding its entire offense.
North Harford returns only four starters, but the Hawks have an exceptional group moving up from a junior varsity that lost only one game last year.