Will Mount Hebron's boys lacrosse team overcome nagging injuries and win its second straight state championship? Will the Hebron girls make coach P.J. Kesmodel the first to capture state titles in boys and girls lacrosse? How will the Centennial boys respond to their first trip to the playoffs in a decade?
The answers to these and other questions will start to unfold Friday, when the lacrosse playoffs begin.
Among the boys, Mount Hebron should handle the Class 1A/2A Region I bracket with ease, then move on to the state semifinals. The Vikings are 11-2, they've clinched their fourth county title in five years and they had won nine straight going into yesterday's regular-season finale against Oakland Mills (past the Howard County Sun deadline).
The joke in the Region I bracket is Hebron's No. 2 seeding -- behind top-seeded Liberty, the Carroll County team that dropped a 9-1 decision against Centennial three weeks ago.
The math weighs in Liberty's favor. The Lions, thanks to a weak schedule against mostly 3A and 4A schools, have amassed more playoff qualifying points than Hebron, which played MSA powers like St. Paul's and Mount St. Joseph's in March, then took on a county consisting of primarily 2A and 1A schools.
Hebron will host either Hammond or Glenelg on Friday in the first round, depending on how the Golden Bears and Gladiators fared in their final regular-season games. Whoever advances should fall to the Vikings. They beat Glenelg and Hammond by identical 11-5 scores last month.
Beyond the regionals, Hebron isn't invincible. The Vikings have battled injuries all year, and they look vulnerable at the moment. In last Friday's surprisingly tight, 7-5 victory over sixth-place Atholton, four midfielders -- Blair Hill (knee), Justin Gemmel (collar bone), Clay Shiflett (hip) and Carl Bochau (ankle) -- sat out with ailments.
Hill's injury is the most serious. After taking a stick to the kneecap in a 12-1 victory over Howard two weeks ago, he hasn't played, and he may not return for the postseason. Shiflett, Gemmel and Bochau should be back, but none figures to play at 100 percent. Without Hill, coach Warren Michael has only one faceoff man in Jason Vettori. Hill's absence also will force Michael to shift Vettori from attack to midfield, taking away scoring punch for the Vikings, who averaged only 11.5 goals against the county.
Michael figures the close call against Atholton was the best thing for Hebron. "The timing couldn't have been better," he said. "We were due for a letdown, Atholton played well and we were exhausted after playing three games in a week. I was exhausted. I couldn't even yell at them."
Look for Hebron's defense -- which permitted merely four goals per game against county teams -- to carry them to the state playoffs. Then the title likely will come down to a rematch with unbeaten Towson, whom the Vikings dispatched last year in the semifinals.
The most refreshing story of the boys lacrosse season is the rebirth of Centennial. The Eagles will make their first postseason appearance since 1982 Friday against South Carroll in the 3A/4A Region I playoffs. The home-field advantage had yet to be determined as of yesterday's deadline.
"We've been out of the playoffs so long, I don't even know how it works," said 13-year coach Mike Siegert. "Usually, I'm thinking about getting equipment collected about now. I'm not usually thinking about practice."
Think again. The Eagles went into yesterday's regular-season finale at Glenelg with a 9-2 record. And they showed playoff poise last week by turning a 3-1 deficit against Hammond into a 12-5 rout. In the fourth period, Centennial outscored the Golden Bears, 5-0, and outshot them, 15-1.
Should Centennial beat South Carroll -- the Eagles whipped the Cavaliers, 8-3, in their season opener -- it would have a tough road to the state playoffs. Top-seeded, undefeated C. Milton Wright (Harford County) will be waiting in the Region I final. Wright blew out Centennial last month, 10-5.
On the girls side, who is going to beat Hebron in the regionalsThe Vikings are unbeaten and have outscored their opponents by more than two to one. Can you say "Mortal lock?"
"I think it's the most solid team he [Hebron coach P.J. Kesmodel] has ever had. They're balanced, patient on the attack and they really know how to hit the free person," said Glenelg coach Ginger Kincaid.
Her fourth-seeded Gladiators will travel to Hebron on Friday for a semifinal matchup. Although Glenelg is a much-improved offensive team since dropping a 14-5 decision to Hebron last month, the Gladiators have not come far enough. Hebron should roll, then dispatch the winner of the Liberty-North Carroll game in the regional final, before setting its sights on a first state championship.
That puts Hebron on another collision course with Loch Raven, the defending state titlist that hasn't lost a game in nearly five years.
For two straight years, the Vikings have been eliminated by Loch Raven in the state semifinals. This year's Hebron team has more speed than ever, five players with at least 20 goals, and a superb defense.
If any team is going to end Loch Raven's reign, it's this year's Vikings.
In the 3A/4A Region I playoffs, Centennial, Howard and Atholton went into yesterday's action virtually assured of the second, third and fourth seeds behind Catonsville.
Atholton, which lost three straight after getting off to a 7-3 start, draws Catonsville after missing the playoffs for the past two years.
Howard, behind senior Emily Petrlik -- she has scored 10 goals twice this season -- made a late charge to grab the third seed. The Lions will travel Friday to Centennial, a perennial playoff team, and a team that bombed the Lions last month, 19-7.