The way Gail Purcell sees it, her Centennial girls lacrosse team hasproblems.
"I worry about every game," said the Eagles' fifth-yearcoach. "I worry because my kids can't catch and throw. Last year, they did it with confidence. This year, they don't know who their leader is. They don't know who to look for. Every game is a challenge."
Purcell has watched the Eagles win squeakers against Dulaney (14-12) and North Carroll (11-8). So Wednesday's 19-7 rout of Howard on Wednesday was especially welcome. That blowout ceased being a challenge for the Eagles about five minutes after the opening draw.
Centennial eased Purcell's worries by staging its best effort of the season. While improving their record to 4-1, the Eagles passed crisply, defended smartly, doggedly ran down ground balls and repeatedly took advantage of one-on-one opportunities by blowing past the slower Lions.
Purcell also may have discovered a leader in senior Heather Saunders. She personally outscored Howard by registering eight goals.
"That was her best game of the year," Purcell said.
One of three Centennial players who already have hit double figures in scoring, Saunders leads the team with 20 goals, seven more than teammate Paige Nettelbladt. Saunders has led the team in scoring in three victories.
The Eagles, two years removed from their first county champion ship and still in search of a state title, will enter next week's county schedule with a four-game winning streak.
Their only setback came intheir season opener, a 20-4 walloping by defending 2A state championLoch Raven (Baltimore County). That defeat was no disgrace, since noone is challenging the Raiders so far.
Centennial's victory over Howard was not surprising. The Eagles have been perennial contenders throughout the county's five-year girls lacrosse history, while the Lions have struggled to get their program off the ground with three different coaches in three years.
Still, the victory margin raised some eyebrows. Howard has a host of returning seniors led by Emily Petrlik, who led the county with 70 goals last year and is headed to University of Maryland Baltimore County on a lacrosse scholarship. The Lions had already won a game, scored 20 goals and sensed a real improvement over last year's 1-11 disaster.
Howard (1-2) briefly looked like a team on the rise Wednesday. With goals by Gina Bonofiglio and Cindy Yi in the opening minutes, the Lions took leads of 1-0 and 2-1.
Then, Centennial's defense and Saunders took over.
First, Saunders tied the score with her first goal five minutes into the game. That started a Centennial avalanche, as the Eagles outscored Howard, 11-2, the rest of the half to take a 13-4 lead at halftime.
During that stretch, the Eagles held the ball constantly by winning six consecutive draws at one point. They outshot the Lions, 20-8, in the first half, as Saunders scored five goals in the half. Lauren Mooney scored three of her four goals before intermission. Alison Lages netted two of her three scores in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense took Petrlik out of the game early. By double-teaming Petrlik with 6-foot Shannon Saltzman and Amy Morrison, Centennial essentiallydared Howard to beat them with someone else. The Lions found no answer.
"I knew if we took Emily (Petrlik) out of the game, they couldn't hold up," Purcell said. "I was real pleased that we were able to shut her down."
By the time Petrlik first touched the ball -- she quickly scored the first of her three goals -- 16 minutes had passed and Centennial held a 7-2 cushion.
"I knew they (Centennial) wouldbe faster and that we couldn't match them in fundamentals," said Terry Flaig, Howard's first-year coach. "But I thought we'd do better. Our midfield fell apart. We couldn't get to ground balls and make the right connections. I just told them to take the mistakes we made and learn from them."
As the Eagles look ahead to the county schedule,Purcell admits she is satisfied, while tempering her praise. Centennial's two-goalie combination of Renee Svehla and Laure Kaylor -- the first one Purcell ever has employed -- is yielding good results. The defense in front of them has been strong.
Offensively, Centennial is averaging a respectable 13 goals a game, but Purcell wants more production from players other than Saunders, Mooney and Lages.
"Thatfirst week (of the county schedule) will be important. We'll see where our heads are," Purcell said. "We think we can go 10-2. We think we've got a shot to win the regionals and make it to the states. But like I said, every game is a challenge."