The county's boys lacrosse picture figures to go through some notable changes this spring, with one exception. Mount Hebron should occupycenter stage once again.
The Vikings experienced an inevitable fall last year. After going undefeated against the county for three straight seasons under Coach Warren Michael, Hebron relinquished its grip to Howard, which went on to win a league title.
The championship appears to be Hebron's to lose once again. The Vikings, who recovered from their midseason swoon -- they finished in a three-way tie for second place with Glenelg and Hammond -- to win the state title, return seven starters, including All-County attackmanJason Vettori.
Not that Hebron won't be challenged. Glenelg's sudden surge from the bottom to second place was no fluke. Coach Rick Kincaid has less talent than he had last year, but the Gladiators' patient, unselfish style paid big dividends down the stretch last year.
Then there's Centennial, always respectable but this year looking capable of making a run at a county championship with seven returning starters. Hammond, with its excellent attack combination of Keith Chance and Tommy Lea, will be a threat in every game.
Atholton, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake should give the county more balance. Each team appears to have enough ability and experience to dig its way out ofthe league cellar.
The county's unique story will be Howard. One of the league's powers for the past three years, the Lions lost theirentire starting lineup to graduation and will struggle to remain competitive in a county they ruled last year.
Here is a closer look at each team:
After suffering through a 3-11 season andwinning only one county game, the Raiders will be content with a middle-of-the-pack finish. And in a league stocked with more talented teams, that's probably a realistic expectation.
Look for the Raidersto improve. Returning juniors Dave Koch and Josh Harrold lead a decent defense, while senior goalie Brandon Miller has shown signs of vast improvement.
"We've got experience at both ends of the field, but defense is where we've really got it covered," said Wendell Thomas,Atholton's 14-year coach.
There are also encouraging signs at theoffensive end. Senior attackmen Alex Flecker and Brian Pertman return to start along with senior midfielders Norman Flecker and Chris Dustin, who moves up from the second midfield unit to start. Two new bright spots, senior attackman Rob Opatvosky and sophomore midfielder Matt Treese, should also help. Opatvosky, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph, is "one of our most skilled attackmen," said Thomas. Treese is afine athlete who brings the team's hardest shot to his position.
The Raiders are off to a 1-2 start, but their 11-9 victory over Seneca Valley reversed a 17-3 trouncing last year.
"We needed that win," Thomas said. "We know we can run with people. We know we can score."
The Eagles of recent years have been stingy on defense, but have often come up empty on offense. This spring, 14-year coach Mike Siegert promises the usual tight defense but a dangerous attack for a change. It's a combination he thinks will make the Eagles contenders.
"The defense should be solid again, but overall we canget 10 people on the field who are pretty good lacrosse players. That hasn't been the case since 1982," Siegert said. "In the past, I didn't think a goal of winning a county championship was realistic. Thisyear, I do."
The Eagles return seven starters, led by senior 6-foot-1, 205-pound All-County defenseman Andy Armiger, junior midfielderWerner Krueger -- a returning starter in his third varsity season --and senior attackman Cullen Meade, whom Siegert has moved from the midfield. Senior midfielder Danny Ahn, like Krueger, has excellent speed and should create scoring opportunities.
"We've got a lot of experience and pretty good balance, and we've got five guys who can score," said Siegert, who watched graduated attackman Jeff Freimanis shoulder the offensive load last year. "The key is to keep people healthy and stay mentally ready, because we're hurting at depth."
Juniorgoalie Will Hong has been the team's most pleasant surprise. He made14 saves in the Eagles' first loss, a 10-5 setback to C. Milton Wright. The Eagles are 1-1.
Last year the Gladiators were the spring's best story. Led by midfielder Jason Pett and attackman Nevin Hilliard, they proved the value of unselfishness and team chemistry, improving from 3-9 in 1990 to 10-4 and a second-place county finish.
This year, the Gladiators will not sneak up on anyone. They expect to contend, and opponents are already looking for them. And since Pett and Hilliard are gone, the challenge to repeat their success will be that much greater.
"Everybody expects us to win now, and weaccept the challenge," said Glenelg coach Rick Kincaid. "We have to be patient and work the ball around like we did last year, only we need more of it this year. Whenever we start stepping out of our roles,we're in trouble."