Like many boys lacrosse teams in the area, soft, muddy practice fields relegated Westminster to a parking lot for much of the preseason.
Once the season began in earnest last night, however, the host Owls quickly shifted into high gear, blitzing region rival C. Milton Wright for three goals in the first 3:48 en route to a 12-6 victory.
"We knew that we had to come out and play really hard to try and catch them off guard," Westminster midfielder Matt Duke said. "We did that. We came out fast and ready to play."
Paced by Duke (three goals, two assists) and attackman Joe Mruk (three goals, one assist), the Owls (1-0) dominated ground balls in building a 7-3 lead by early in the third quarter.
"Getting down in the hole didn't help us," Mustangs coach Andrew Gerard said. "We saw some flashes here and there, but [Westminster] is a good ballclub with a lot of good athletes. They came at us pretty hard."
Facing a team that it could very well see in the latter stages of the Class 4A-3A North regionals, Westminster - returning seven starters from last year's 14-2 Carroll County championship squad - surprised even its coach.
"We talked about bringing it as hard as we could from the opening whistle, then keeping that level of intensity up the entire time," Owls coach Jim Peters said. "I think our offense came pretty well prepared to play tonight. We haven't put a lot of things in yet. We thought we had enough in to play a decent game."
Westminster started quickly, with Brad Baer winning faceoffs and the Owls grabbing a 3-0 lead on a goal by Duke sandwiched by a pair from Mruk.
Though outplayed early, however, C. Milton Wright (0-1) stayed in it thanks to the stick of attackman Pat Hanley, who scored all three of his team's first-half goals, including one with 6:15 left in the second quarter that cut the Owls' lead to 5-3.
Hanley, the top scorer in Harford County last season, went on to score a game-high four goals.
Duke's hot shot from the left side gave Westminster a 6-3 lead at halftime, and the junior then made it 7-3 early in the second half on a highlight-reel play.
Driving in from midfield, Duke took a wicked shot from the Mustangs' Jeff Bell, bounced off, spun to his right and fired a high shot past goalie Aaron Smith.