Severn School and South River have matured to make them the teams to beat going into the 2001 Anne Arundel County boys lacrosse season.
Severn's slew of quality veterans bodes well for their rugged schedule in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference with St. Mary's.
Class 3A South River (12-3 last season) returns 13 quality players.
In private schools, third-year Severn coach Jamie McNealey, 5-10 last season, feels his nucleus of three-year players are ready.
"We invested in sophomores three years ago, and now it's their time," McNealey said.
Graded the metro area's top goalie and likely headed to Princeton, Matt Larkinis is ready to seal the Severn net. Senior attackmen Drew Habeck (bound for North Carolina) and Brandon Wright (Dartmouth) will put points on the board.
Senior midfielders Mike Houser (Loyola) and Mike Bailey (Penn State) will contribute their share of offense. Bailey is the face-off man.
The top three defensemen are also solid in Dan Grimm (Yale), Brendan Barry (Gettysburg) and Matt Nicholson (Dartmouth).
Severn hopes to dethrone St. Mary's as the county's top team. The Saints (10-7) have been the county's most dominant team the past two decades under Jim Moorhead (230-95), who stepped down after 21 seasons.
Mike Burnett, a former St. Mary's standout attacker in the late '70s and later a four-time All-American at North Carolina, was elevated from assistant to replace Moorhead.
Key players for the Saints are senior tri-captains -- attackman Matt White (Loyola), defender Ted Turnblacer (Towson) and goalie Mike Fretwell. Midfielder Tom Mikula is another key senior.
The county's two B Conference teams, Archbishop Spalding (14-5) and Annapolis Area Christian School (13-4), finished 1-2 in their league last spring. Of course, AACS would like to turn the tables.
"Our goal is to be back at Hopkins playing for the championship, and we wouldn't mind if Spalding is there again," said AACS coach Dick Bitzer, father of the Eagles' senior attack, Alex Bitzer.
Alex Bitzer and two other seniors -- Dustin Coombe (39 goals, 43 assists) and Ryan McCuen (12, 17) -- have started since their freshman seasons. Juniors Will Beebe on defense and goalie Phil Mahaffey will contain the opposition.
Unseating Spalding won't be easy with last year's Coach of the Year, Walt Blahut. He is welcoming back 17 returnees, including his top six scorers, led by juniors Derek Platt (50, 44) and Kyle Dixon (33, 32).
Senior midfielder Mike Duckett (30, 15) and captain Billy Ide (midfielder) are two more key components. Once Blahut decides on his goalie, the Cavaliers will be ready for another title run.
Led by senior Derek McCulloch-Hilley and a host of returnees, Key School (11-4) expects to challenge in the Maryland Independent League.
In the public schools, South River has seniors Bob Woody and Brian Davison back on the attack with junior Tim Ring. Senior Dan Pearsall heads up five returning midfielders, three of them sophomores.
Senior Jack Bevier anchors the defense, with junior Charlie Gray returning in the goal.
Coach Mike Bellotte has led Severna Park (18-3) to the 4A-3A state final the past two seasons, winning in 1999, but says, "We don't have the big guns and big names we've had in the past, and might take our lumps early."
Bellotte has one of the top returning midfielders in Paul Burnett (53, 14), who was 82-for-119 (.690) on face-offs last spring.
Bobby West is as good a defenseman as the Falcons have had, and Bellotte has the luxury of two outstanding goalies in seniors Andy Korpon (Notre Dame) and Dan Glassman (Salisbury).
Arundel (11-6) should be another 4A-3A contender with Annapolis (16-3), Broadneck (4-12) and North County (7-8) bearing question marks.
Four-year midfielder Chase Gompers, attackman Brad Korvin, goalie Dave Rennie, and midfielders Mark Lanzer and Luis Gonzalez give Arundel a strong nucleus.
Annapolis has lost its offensive potency, and coach John German says the Panthers will be leaning on their defense with seniors Charlie Danmeyer, Greg Vetter and junior Nick Baker, and senior Robby Haberlein in the cage.
Coming off his worse season at Broadneck, coach Clay White says his Bruins "are looking to turn it around."
Senior Jake Green and juniors Rusty Poisson and Jake Larrian lead the Bruins' attack, with junior Steve Panos on the midfield and the senior trio of Greg Karanzalis, Blaine Fairbanks and Brian Felice on defense.
Paul Shea is short on numbers at North County and is counting on big things from senior attackman Lou Anuszewski (39, 14), junior David Muller (20, 24), and junior midfielders Stu Allers (11, 23) and Mike Mangum (17, 6).
Among the 4A teams looking to improve are Old Mill (5-10), with senior attackman Brian Zerrlaut (21, 11); Glen Burnie (2-13); Chesapeake (6-8); and Meade (0-12). Chesapeake has a new coach in former Arundel assistant Troy Herman as does 3A Northeast (3-10) in Mike Ransom.
Despite three winless seasons over the past four, it's encouraging for Meade that Joe Dennis has decided to return after becoming the sixth coach in as many seasons last year.
Players to watch
Drew Habeck (Severn, senior, attack)
Led Admirals with 58 points, 42 goals.
Alex Bitzer (Annapolis Area, senior, attack) With 285 points (172, 113) has sites on state career points record (324).