Defending champion Essex Community College has clinched a sixth consecutive berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association lacrosse tournament May 8-9.
Essex (7-2) earned the trip to Farmingdale, N.Y., by beating Catonsville, Harford and Anne Arundel community colleges to wrap up the Maryland junior college title.
"We didn't play well early in the season," said Essex coach Tim Puls. "We had some guys who thought that all they had to do was step on the field and they'd win. We got that straightened out with some role changes and by impressing on the players that it takes a lot of hard work to win lacrosse games."
The offense is led by attackman Sean Heffernan (Dulaney) and midfielder Andy Martin (Edgewood), both of whom are headed for Loyola College next fall. Chad Christian (Franklin), who had been playing at midfield, has been switched to attack, solidifying the offense. Christian has been accepted at Salisbury State, St. Mary's and Franklin & Marshall.
"Our defense has done a great job for us all season," Puls said. "Vince Rose [Overlea] has been great in the goal for us, and our close defense has been shutting the other teams' attacks down."
Starting at defense are Robby Troy (Huntington, N.Y.), Sean O'Connell (Oakland Mills) and Darby Subotich (Calvert Hall). Kip Foulks (W.T. Woodson) and Zack Thornton (John Carroll) are both top-flight defensive midfielders.
"Foulks has great speed and can run anyone down on the field," said Puls. "Thornton is an excellent defensive middie and he is also our faceoff man."
How does Puls compare this year's team with last year's championship outfit?
"It's hard to compare teams," he said. "Last year we could put six offensive players on the field that commanded respect. This year we don't have that kind of depth and we don't have the shooters we had last year. But we have more quality on defense this year.
"If we can keep it together and don't get intimidated by some of the other teams, we can do well. But we have to keep in mind that we're the national champs and everybody has us in their sights."