For North Carroll's Donnie Kincaid, the past two seasons have been memories the senior midfielder would rather forget. Memories of losing 10 of 12 games in 1997. Winless in 13 attempts last season.
"It was really rough," said Kincaid, a three-year starter. "As it got toward the end of the season, there were times when you didn't feel like walking out onto the field. It was hard to get pumped up for games."
Different season, different story.
The Panthers so far have five wins -- two more than they have won since 1994 -- against four losses. They are 3-2 in the county, with big victories against usual league powerhouses Liberty and Westminster.
North Carroll's surge has not gone unnoticed among the county coaches.
"They have come a long way," said South Carroll coach Jeff Alisauckas, whose squad beat the Panthers, 11-10, on April 6. "Over the years, I have seen them get progressively better."
But North Carroll's accomplishment has been marred by allegations of unsportsmanlike behavior, some observers contend.
Westminster players said the Panthers hurled insults before and after a 5-3 win over the Owls April 13. The next day, a billboard outside North Carroll, announcing that the team had "trounced" Westminster, unearthed more bad feelings.
Some Liberty players said they will remember some of the Panthers' trash-talking during a 10-9 win against the Lions April 27.
"I hope we do, because we'll get fired up," said senior defender Micah Reese, whose Liberty squad travels today to North Carroll for a 7 p.m. game. "I felt like they didn't have a whole lot of class."
But Panthers junior attack Zach Crisler shrugged off the criticism.
"It's the first time in a long time that we've beaten some of those teams," he said. "Sometimes you deserve to celebrate."
Not up for debate is the job coach David Dodson has done since he took over the reins from John Piper two years ago.
Dodson, an assistant coach under Piper, was the one who decided to keep a talented core of then-sophomores such as Crisler, midfielder Mark Winemiller and defender Dave Kuhn on the JV squad, rather than promote them to varsity status.
Dodson was the one who organized off-season recreational leagues for his players to nurture their skills and develop rapport.
Dodson said the change is startling.
"Last year, we had 15 kids who came out and didn't know much about lacrosse, but they gave 110 percent every time," he said. "This year's difference is that the kids have played a good bit of lacrosse during the off-season and their hard work has allowed them to be a competitive team."
The North Carroll offense is led by Crisler, whose 22 goals rank fourth best in the county. Freshman sensation Nick Thurston has added 14 assists to his 14 goals, and sophomore attack Kevin Sirman has scored 13 times with another five assists.
The defense is anchored by Kuhn and senior Regis D'Angelo, and sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Lettau has made 117 saves.
Thurston said he takes much pride in watching opponents adjust to the new-look Panthers.
"Teams are starting to look at us like we're not just another win for them," he said. "We're beginning to make a name for ourselves."
But Dodson acknowledged that he is very concerned about the negative reputation that North Carroll is developing.
Dodson said he has tried to impart the significance of humility to his charges and has pledged to keep a more watchful eye on some of the trash-talking.
Dodson attributed some of the behavior to youthful euphoria.
"They're not used to winning," he said. "It's their exuberance, their excitement of being able to beat people or stay in games with people."
Westminster coach Jim Peters said he understands the power of raw emotion but argued that the coach has a responsibility to manage it.
"That's his job to control it," Peters said. "Those things that kids do, you have to have a grip on."
To win the county title, North Carroll must win its last three games and hope that the Owls lose their final two. Kincaid said he hasn't given up hope on that scenario.
"This year, Coach has done so much for us," Kincaid said. "A county championship is still our goal."
Pub Date: 5/06/99