Annapolis' Keenan tests life on the other sideline

Lacrosse: Emotions will be running high for the Panthers' new coach when he takes on St. Mary's, which has beaten Annapolis 32 consecutive times.

High Schools

March 21, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

When first-year Annapolis coach Joe Keenan leads his Panthers against St. Mary's tomorrow in their season-opening lacrosse game, he will be trying to end a dominance he helped to sustain.

Keenan starred at St. Mary's as a defender for four years, earning All-Metro honors as a senior in 1994, when the Saints finished with a 12-3 record.

That St. Mary's squad was runner-up in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Assocaition's A Conference, finishing with the No. 2 area ranking.

It also was one of two teams to defeat Annapolis (16-2) during the Panthers' state-championship season.

"When you played at St. Mary's, there was all this pressure to beat Annapolis because we had this streak going against them for years and years and years," said Keenan, 25, whose Panthers will meet his fifth-ranked alma mater at 5:15 p.m. in the Severna Park tournament.

Jim Moorhead, St. Mary's coach for 21 years until 2000, said the Saints have not lost to the Panthers since 1966 - a span of 32 games. In the past 35 years, Severna Park (in 1978) has been the only other public school to beat St. Mary's.

"I remember when we played Annapolis, they wanted to crush us physically," Keenan said. "I think their emotion took them out of the game and allowed us to beat them more easily a lot of the time."

"I've got a lot of friends who played against me from Annapolis, and the rivalry's still there. You can see it now with the kids. They all live in the same towns, hang out at the same places - there's a lot of emotion going into the game.

"As the coach of Annapolis, you want to beat everybody - especially St. Mary's - but you can't get too carried away emotionally," Keenan added.

After playing at the University of North Carolina, Keenan spent a season coaching at a North Carolina high school before returning to St. Mary's last year to become an assistant coach with the boys JV team.

He accepted the Annapolis position in November, and named Colin Campbell, also a defenseman on St. Mary's 1994 team, his assistant.

"Coming from St. Mary's, I wasn't sure how I'd be perceived at Annapolis," said Keenan. "But [Annapolis athletic director Dave] Gehrdes, being the girls lacrosse coach, he's kind of shown me the ropes and taken me under his wing. The expectations are high, but that's how I want it."

Any concerns Keenan had about how the Annapolis players would respond to him were quelled by a call from midfielder Matt O'Neil, who told Keenan the Panthers were behind him.

"He called me the night I got the job and just struck me as someone who was responsible, confident and had a desire to lead the team," said Keenan, who has since named O'Neil one of his team captains.

"Like all the players, he knows I still love St. Mary's and how much it's still a part of me," Keenan said. "I still respect the program for what it is and the people who helped me out over there.

"But at the same time, I want to bring that same philosophy to Annapolis. I want to be able to compete with them and beat them on a consistent basis."

Said O'Neil: "We're aware of Coach Keenan's past, and it adds some emotion to the game, but it's not like, `Let's go out and win because [Keenan] is from St. Mary's.' "

In tomorrow's second game, at 7:15, Landon, the Bethesda team ranked No. 1 nationally by Inside Lacrosse magazine, will play Severna Park, No. 8 in metro Baltimore by The Sun. On Saturday, Annapolis will take on Landon at 5:15 p.m. and Severna Park will play St. Mary's at 7:15.

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