Open playoff format takes pressure off of county teams Winning every game no longer a necessity

Local Sports : High School Lacrosse Preview

March 22, 1996|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The new open playoff format could not have come at a better time for Carroll County girls lacrosse teams.

The county lacrosse programs all are in various phases of transition this year from two-year state finalist Liberty to a Westminster team that won once last season and should benefit from the reduced pressure the new format brings.

Since all teams are eligible for the state postseason tournament, early victories aren't quite as important as in years past where any loss could damage playoff hopes.

And since all four teams have several questions, it gives them more time to develop.

"You don't have to win so many games to get into the postseason," said South Carroll coach Stacy Stem. "I think that we [may] start off slow, and with the new tournament, I think we'll grow and progress better."

But this new format also should help Liberty which has won the county title for the past six years but may need some time to develop this season.

Liberty coach Courtney Vaughn has four sophomores and two freshmen on her team, something a bit uncommon for the Lions.

"I brought up one freshman before in the nine years I've been coaching," said Vaughn. "This year I brought up two, and I hate to do that, but they need the experience of playing with a higher caliber of play, and it will benefit them in the long run."

Liberty, which should get plenty of help from Nicki Jones and Michelle Clawson and Heather Carter, has won 42 straight regular-season games but must recover from the loss of five seniors and others who did not come out.

North Carroll and South Carroll both have similar scenarios this spring plenty of talent, but most of it unproven.

The Cavaliers, who made the state finals three years ago and the playoffs last year, will open the season with five sophomores on their team and lots of questions.

Stem's team should have talent on offense, led by Allison Cain, but the Cavaliers will need time to grow together. But they know they will make the playoffs, which lets Stem concentrate a bit more on teaching.

"I am trying to teach all of them from scratch," said Stem. "We're starting brand new."

North Carroll coach Denean Koontz also has plenty of new faces. Only four players return from last year's 6-6 playoff team.

Still, Koontz is being both optimistic and realistic. Helped by the return of offensive threat Stacy Cook, Koontz said the Panthers will be able to score and have good senior leadership.

And the leadership could be important as North Carroll tries to fill holes in several spots especially on defense, where nearly the entire corps is new.

"The rest have all played together on junior varsity," said Koontz. "They're young, and it's going to take some time to mature, but they're hard-working and they're improving each day."

Westminster, on the other hand, suffered through a rebuilding year last season and should be the county's most improved team.

The Owls probably were better than their 1-11 record, losing four games by just one goal and having a hard time holding on to leads.

But Westminster coach Suzanne Peters likes what she sees this spring. Ten of her 12 starters return, including top offensive threats Holly Seaman (40 goals, 3 assists), Ann Brennan (28, 5) and Lori Morsberger (24, 3).

Throw in an easier schedule, and it's easy to see why Westminster should improve greatly.

"It gives you something to aim for more realistically at the end of the season," said Peters. "I've had 6-6 teams that haven't made the playoffs and 5-7 teams that have."

But the playoffs could cause some problems for North Carroll, South Carroll and Liberty. All three teams, now in Class 3A, wound up being placed in the same region so only one can make the state's final four.

In addition, perennial power and defending state champion Mount Hebron also sits in this region, which will make things even more difficult.

At first, however, the county teams will worry about improving to play better when the playoffs come except for Francis Scott Key, which is trying to start a club program.

"Your best teams are going to win anyway," said Koontz. "That's just the way it is. You eliminate somebody or somebody from our county wins. It's good."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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