North Carroll lands help



North Carroll boys soccer coach Denny Snyder always anticipated his defense being the strength of this year's team. It's what he didn't expect, however, that has made this season one of his most memorable.

After winning seven games a year ago, the Panthers appeared to be in great shape, set to return all but one player from their core group of defenders.

That all changed last spring, when defender Nick Riley suffered a stress fracture in his back, which continues to keep him on the sidelines. Then, during the preseason, North Carroll suffered another major blow to its defense when David Smedick, a first-team all-county back, tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

Despite missing two of their best defenders, however, the Panthers have managed to start the season 8-3 through Monday, allowing just 11 goals through their first 11 games, including four shutouts.

"Losing those two, I knew we had some holes to fill," Snyder said, "but different players have stepped up."

One of them includes sophomore Nate Walker, who has been more than solid after being forced into a starting role, as well as junior Justin Carver, who during the preseason voluntarily switched from forward to defense to help fill the void.

"He saw the need that we had and said, `Coach, how about taking a look at me in the back,' " Snyder said. "That was one of the most unselfish things that I've seen, and he's played very strong in the back for us."

Senior Tim Ruck, the team's only returning starter on defense, junior Tim Wineke and goalie Eric Evans also have raised their games, all playing key roles as North Carroll recorded shutouts last week against Bel Air and Linganore. It has gotten plenty of help from an unselfish offense, which includes 12 players who have scored goals and 11 who have recorded assists. "The way I look at it, you try to build your team around the defense and go from there," said Snyder.

Panthers' spark

Watch North Carroll's field hockey team and one player will quickly emerge as the Panthers' centerpiece.

Midfielder Mandy Pickard can influence the game on offense as well as defense with powerhouse drives, skill and anticipation.

Pickard is the only player on the Panthers' team who plays all year around. She is the key to their transition game and is also one of their top scorers, with nine goals and five assists. She had two goals in Thursday's 3-1 win over Linganore as the Panthers improved to 8-1.

"She's a kid that can dominate a game," Panthers coach Denean Koontz said. "She's got very sound defensive ability, but you'll notice as a midfielder she's got nine goals. Mandy's the type of player you can utilize on offense as well as defense. She's a leader."

As impressive as her game is Pickard's deflection of any credit to her teammates.

"We really work together and we all like each other and we just click," Pickard said. "In the past three years, there's always been that couple people who want it for themselves, but it seems we're more of a team this year. We all want it together."

Pickard, a senior who wants to play in college, plays for the Hymax club team based in Towson. She said she had her stick in her hand every day this summer.

That puts a smile on Koontz's face.

"Mandy's a role model for her team. She loves hockey, she plays all the time and she's positive."

Shooting for a title

Century sophomore Andrew Stenger will be considered among the favorites when the county's golf teams come together on Saturday for the inaugural Carroll County Championships at the Bear Creek Golf Course in Westminster.

Through yesterday, Stenger led the county with a nine-hole average of less than 38 after taking about four strokes off his game since last season.

Knights coach Jerry Resh said the improvement has been the result of the time he has put in over the past several months as a junior member of the Links at Challedon in Mount Airy.

"He's been playing in the men's league all summer and fall long, and I think that all the work that he's done has put him into the situation he's in now," Resh said.

Each team will send its top five golfers to the tournament, with the winner declared the individual county champion.

"It basically boils down to one day," Resh said. "I'm sure the kids' nerves are a little more frazzled. It's kind of a shootout, because when it comes down to one day, you never can tell who is going to have a good day and who is going to have a bad day."

Moves help Knights

After losing its playoff opener last year to Liberty, Century's girls soccer team has made a few lineup changes this fall that the Knights hope will translate into a more fruitful postseason this time around.

Among the biggest moves, second-year coach Sara Figuly shifted junior Jenny Steadman from offense to defense, where she is now the team's starting sweeper.

"Jenny is one of our captains, so we basically needed a leader in the back," Figuly said.

Stopper Jennah Kilroy had been the team's only returner on defense.

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