Following Road To Top

Allure of playing best teams, national rankings has spurred an increase in interregional play

Varsity Spring Preview

March 14, 2007|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

Last spring, St. Paul's girls lacrosse team won its second Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship in three years and was ranked fourth in the country by Lacrosse magazine.

Coach Mitch Whiteley, however, wants to give his Gators the chance to reach the top.

In addition to their grueling A Conference schedule, Whiteley has added the three teams ranked higher in the national poll: Mount Hebron, Moorestown, N.J., and St. Stephen's/St. Agnes, from Alexandria, Va.

"I just kind of figure if you want to be included among the best you've got to play the best," Whiteley said.

He isn't the first local girls lacrosse coach to look all around the Mid-Atlantic area for the best competition.

When Mount Hebron began dominating the local public schools soon after its program began in 1988, the Vikings sought games with Baltimore's top private schools.

Now, one of their hottest rivalries is with New Jersey state champion Moorestown, which comes to town May 5.

Vikings victories the past two years decided the top ranking in Lacrosse magazine.

"[The growth of interregional play] really was kind of stemming from their national ranking, which seems to be the biggest deal," said Vikings sixth-year coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland, adding that LaxPower's computer ratings and poll are also a factor.

With so many of the nation's top teams - 19 of Lacrosse magazine's 2006 Top 25 - in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, it's not difficult for them to travel to each other.

Mount Hebron, winner of 14 state titles in 15 years, has been No. 1 in Lacrosse magazine for five straight years and seven of the past eight years. Moorestown tied the Vikings for the top spot in 2002 and held it outright in 2001.

Perhaps the first big interregional event, Roland Park's North-South Tournament preceded national rankings but not The Sun's poll. It began in 1992 with Mount Hebron, Unionville, Pa., and Tower Hill, Del.

"I started that tournament in order to play [Mount Hebron]," said Wendy Kridel, who was head coach at Roland Park then and now coaches Bryn Mawr. "I had this really successful program and we couldn't be ranked on top, because that team had so many wins and we couldn't get it without beating them."

Mount Hebron won and stayed No. 1 in The Sun, but Kuhl-McClelland looks to that event as the catalyst for the surge in interregional play.

"It really stemmed from the public schools playing the private schools," she said, "and it got to the point where it seemed that the Mecca of lacrosse was right here in the Baltimore area, the Middle Atlantic region, because it seemed St. Stephen's/St. Agnes was in it, too. Then there was this talk about who's better: Maryland, New York or New Jersey."

But interregional play began long before that. Roland Park played at St. Stephen's/St Agnes in 1977 - 11 years before Howard County offered girls lacrosse.

"Back then, we were only playing seven games. We wanted to play someone from Baltimore, someone really strong," said longtime St. Stephen's/St. Agnes coach Kathy Jenkins, who regularly plays Baltimore teams and whose Saints dominate the Washington-area Independent Schools League.

Soon after Roland Park began its tournament, Mount Hebron started one, too.

"I think [interregional play has] really taken off since the late '90s," said McDonogh coach Chris Robinson, a former Mount Hebron head coach. "A lot of teams are doing it, because they travel with their club teams up and down the East Coast during the summer and a lot of people get talking. I think that opened the floodgates of interregional matchups."

Like Maryland public school teams, Moorestown is limited in the number of out-of-league games it can play and the number of miles it can travel, but playing Mount Hebron has become a priority.

"I think at the level we're playing, when you play these big teams it's something to look forward to, especially now because Lacrosse magazine ranks everyone nationally. That's what you're going after. You want to be the No. 1 team. At least that's one of our goals," Moorestown coach Deanna Knobloch said.

Not every coach has jumped on the interregional bandwagon. Some coaches, especially in the IAAM A Conference, widely considered the toughest league in the country, said they have enough tough games and don't want to over-schedule.

Severna Park coach Carin Peterson, who can schedule only two games outside the Anne Arundel County league, prefers playing the local private schools. "We're just so limited by what we can do, but to lose a Severn or a St. Mary's, those are huge rivalries. People want to see those games."

Playing games with national rankings on the line also brings a lot of pressure, but Kuhl-McClelland, Robinson and Whiteley said their girls can't wait for them.

"At the end of the Moorestown game the first year, Meggie [Bosica, the two-time All-Metro Player of the Year] came off the field and said, `I don't want it to be over.' Kids like her, they thrive on that," Kuhl-McClelland said. "That's why they're going to big colleges. They like that competition and they like that pressure."

Whiteley said: "The girls here want to play the toughest teams out there, win or lose. Part of the deal is challenging them and them challenging themselves."

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