Fallston made the biggest dent in the Harford County high school boys lacrosse scene this season, as it went 14-2, and outscored the opposition by an average of 19-5 in reaching the state Class 1A-2A championship game.
Two of the principal reasons for the team's success have been singled out for honors by The Baltimore Sun: John Conley has been named the Harford County boys lacrosse Coach of the Year, and midfielder Dan Bowers the Harford County boys lacrosse Player of the Year.
Even before the season began, Conley, starting his third season as head coach, was optimistic because of the wealth of talent he had returning from a team that went to the state 1A-2A semifinals a year ago.
The Cougars did not disappoint, running off 14 straight wins after a season-opening loss to St. Paul's. It was a streak in which they demolish all county opposition and two playoff foes in reaching the championship game against Towson.
"We had a letdown, and I can't explain it," Conley said in reflecting on the 9-7 loss to the Generals. "Maybe we were nervous, not having been in the championship game before. Your throw-and-catch go wrong when you're not sure of yourself. You get so afraid to lose, you're afraid to do the things it takes to win.
"Even so, we absolutely lived up to expectations. You look at the whole year and we played every bit of it."
It was the second championship loss for Conley this year. He plays for the Philadelphia Wings of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, who lost to the Detroit Turbo by one goal in the title game.
In addition to his full-time position as a teacher at Fallston Middle School, he also played lacrosse outdoors for the Green Turtle club team.
As it developed, Conley had a part in the emergence of Bowers as a major force on the field.
"He came to me after last year and wanted to know what he had to do to possibly attract attention from college coaches. I told him the things they looked for, and the only thing he had not done was score enough," Conley said.
To which Bowers, a solid 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, said, "I decided last year I had to step up."
He served as one of the captains for the Cougars' state championship soccer team, and was a two-time captain of the lacrosse team.
"This year, I had a chance to run with some great guys," Bowers said. "Our attitude overall was so much better. In the past, there had been a tendency to slack off occasionally.
"This time, we knew we had some really good players on paper, but also knew that that doesn't always work out. We came out and played together."
This is reflected by the presence of six Cougars on the All-County first team.
Bowers was one of three players on his team to total more than 60 points, as he had a team-high 46 goals, plus 16 assists.
The boys recipient of the recent Al Cesky Memorial student-athlete award, Bowers will attend Gettysburg College.
"He had great confidence," Conley said of Bowers. "Better than anybody else, he shot when he got the chance and found the open part of the net. His purpose was to be a leader. He never gives up, and he redefines the meaning of the word hustle when he steps on the field.
"This was my first four-year group [he had been an assistant for one year prior to being named head coach]. For all the seniors, I hope they take something away from the program.
"I know they gave me a lot, taught me a lot."
First team at a glance
* Jamie Auer, Fallston, Jr., goalie -- He's 6 feet 2, 185 pounds. For a team that outscored the opposition, 266-83, he allowed an average of fewer than five goals a game. He was the starting point of the attack, too, as quick outlet passes set up a speedy, quick-striking offense.
* Brad Baker, Fallston, Sr., attack -- He's 5-11, 165. He was the leading scorer with 43 goals and 28 assists and one of three Cougars with more than 60 points. He will attend Franklin & Marshall.
* Jason Bernard, Havre de Grace, Sr., midfield -- He's 6-0, 170. He had an outstanding year for a team that did not. A leader who played offense and defense from his midfield position, he finished with 30 goals and 10 assists. He will attend Harford Community College.
* Chuck Heinze, C.M. Wright, Sr., defense -- He's 6-2, 170. He was the top player for an aggressive group that helped produce the second-stingiest defense among county teams. He will attend Harford Community College.
* Zack Karantonis, Fallston, Sr., attack -- He's 6-2, 175. Another of his team's 60-point scorers with 31 goals and 31 assists. He will attend Radford University.
* Justin Lassahn, C.M. Wright, Sr., defense -- He's 6-3, 187. He teamed with Heinze in thwarting opposing offenses, and often drew the opponent's key scorer. He will attend UMBC.
* Corey Lambroff, C.M. Wright, Sr., attack -- He's 6-1, 195. He was the team's leading goal scorer, yet was equally adept at moving without the ball, often taking the other team's best defender with him. He will attend Ohio State.