Gilman soccer coach Jon Seal wouldn't mind a rerun of the past three seasons, in which his Greyhounds earned a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship berth each year while claiming the 2010 title.
With a senior-laden starting lineup, things shouldn't be much different for a team eager to be fighting defending champ Loyola Blakefield and McDonogh for conference supremacy again.
"The last three years for us, we were playing our best soccer at the right time," said Seal, who is now in his 10th-year with a 106-71-18 record at Gilman. "We have to continue to improve this year. We can't hit that wall both physically and mentally and plateau in mid-October."
Motivation shouldn't be a problem. The Greyhounds figure to be playing with an edge all season.
"We have lost the past two (title matches)," senior defender and University of Pennsylvania recruit Sam Wancowicz said. "It's definitely a motivating factor."
"It's a good motivator," the coach said. "We also understand just because we have been there the last three years, it is not an automatic we will be there for a fourth year."
Wancowicz feels the Greyhounds have the senior class to get it done.
"We really have strong senior leadership," he said. "I think its unique that we have 13 seniors and they all are big contributors. You have to come out and be ready to play. Everybody is fighting for a position."
Wancowicz, who is Gilman's best player, chose the University of Pennsylvania over offers from Villanova and Georgetown universities after totaling 14 goals and 11 assists last year.
He had a standout performance in the Greyhounds' season-opening 6-2 victory over visiting Georgetown Prep on Aug. 27, scoring two goals, including drilling a 25-yard direct kick past diving keeper Rory Dierman.
"He is probably one of the best, if not the best all-around player, to ever come through the program," Seal said. "Sam can play right back, center back, up top or out wide. There are not a lot of players like that. Sam is very versatile, which make him extremely dangerous and difficult to defend."
Senior Brendan Barger, who starts on the front line with seniors Jett Rattcliffe and Peter Brown, is another player Seal is counting on heavily.
Barger has earned a lacrosse scholarship to Ohio State University.
"He's a tremendous athlete," the coach said.
"He's been on the varsity for three years, but this is the one year we are asking him to do a lot of things and play a prominent role," Seal said.
So will standout senior goalie Chase Wittich. He had the tough job of following All-American Andy Harris last year.
"He is one of the reasons we got to the championship game last year," Seal said. "Everyone has stopped asking that question: How does it feel to be following Andrew Harris? Now, they know about Chase and that's good to hear."
The defense of Wancowicz, classmates Sean O'Donnell and Adam Aist, junior Fabio Beltran and sophomores Christopher Wolfe and Chris Czarnecki appears to be Seal's biggest concern.
"Our backs really need to come together. Trying to get some stability in the back will be critical for us," Seal said. "We are still trying to figure out what positions guys are going to play in the back."
Gilman opens league play Sept. 6 against St. Paul's in Brooklandville. The Greyhounds don't clash with Loyola or McDonogh until the end of the month.
"I worry a lot about Gilman and the physical aspect of their team," McDonogh coach Steve Nichols said. "It's the most athletic team Jon has had."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun