As Howard County girls lacrosse begins its 26th season, there is no one clear favorite. Instead, there are two - Mt. Hebron and Marriotts Ridge - and it's difficult to pick one team over the other.
While most girls lacrosse games have a decisive winner, the Mt. Hebron-Marriotts Ridge outcome is often a one- or two-goal margin.
The past two springs, those two teams have split season honors. Mt. Hebron won the county and District V title in 2011 and then lost to eventual state champion Marriotts Ridge in the regional finals.
In 2012, the scenario was reversed. Marriotts Ridge won the county and district titles, but Mt. Hebron avenged its county loss in the region championship before losing in the state semifinal.
In a way, 2013 becomes the rubber match.
Each team returns talented players.
High-scoring Zoe Stukenberg, the two-time Player of the Year who is headed to the University of Maryland, is back for Marriotts Ridge.
Draw specialist Sam Brookhart heads up a determined Mt. Hebron team. Brookhart, who is Towson University bound, also knows how to find the net.
The first of their “big” games will be April 26 at Marriotts Ridge. Any rematch would be in regional play.
Although Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron are projected to be at the top of the county - flip a coin, it could be either team - neither squad can afford to overlook the competition.
Glenelg and Centennial come in the next tier and if not title contenders outright, often help determine who the winner is.
Glenelg has 10 starters back from last year, but will sorely miss Emily Russo, who tore a knee ligament playing basketball in December. Graduation hit Centennial hard. The Eagles have just four starters back, only two seniors and there is a lot of offense to replace.
Atholton, Howard and River Hill are poised to move up a level.
The most interesting story line involves River Hill. Amid on-going team drama, the Hawks slipped to the middle of the county standings in 2012, but new coach Kelly Berger brings high expectations and a wealth of experience. The Hammond High graduate was a college All-American and is an eight-year member of the United States women's lacrosse team. Before coming to River Hill, Berger was assistant coach and then head coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Two keys for River Hill's potential success will be twins Julia and Jenna Collins. The junior midfielders have made a verbal commitment to play for the Naval Academy when they graduate. Both are quick and athletic.
Among the private schools, Chapelgate Christian Academy should be the team to beat in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference. The Yellowjackets were 17-0 and conference champs last spring and bring back nine starters, including top scorer Emma Rufolo.
Glenelg Country School is in the IAAM B Conference. The Dragons have a small squad (15 players) so playing time won't be a problem, but injuries and endurance might be.
Games to watch
The county public school schedule begins March 21. Below are some games to watch this year.
March 26: Howard at Atholton, 5:30 p.m.
March 30: Reservoir, Howard, Wilde Lake and Worcester Prep at the Karl Wolfe tournament at Rockburn Park. Times TBA.
April 6: Fight for Five tournament at Cedar Lane Park. Mt. Hebron vs. Hereford at 9 a.m. and then Mt. Hebron vs. McDonogh (or Manchester Valley), at 1 p.m.
April 17: Oakland Mills at Hammond, 5:30 p.m.
April 23: Centennial at River Hill, 5:30 p.m.
April 26: Mt. Hebron at Marriotts Ridge, 7 p.m.
April 30: Long Reach at Wilde Lake, 5:30 p.m.
April 30: Glenelg at Marriotts Ridge, 5:30 p.m.
May 2: Marriotts Ridge at McDonogh, 4 p.m.
There are three classifications for post-season play in lacrosse and Howard County has at least one team in each one. Howard High is in the Class 4A/3A North Region; Oakland Mills is in 2A/1A East. The county’s 10 other public schools make up the 3A/2A South Region.
The good news is that guarantees at least one county team will reach the state semifinals. The bad news is that 3A/2A South consists of Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron, Glenelg, Atholton, River Hill, Centennial, Long Reach, Reservoir, Wilde Lake and Hammond.
The opening draw
As the season begins, here's a brief snapshot of the teams (For extended capsules and games to watch, visit us online at explorehoward.com):
2012 record: 7-4, 9-6
Coach: Crystal Shelley (third year)
Key players: Seniors Ellie Matthews (MF), Kelly McQuilkin (MF) and Kaelin Shaw (MF); junior Rachel Day (A).
The tweet: As a program, the Raiders have been making steady improvement.
“I have a hard working group of girls who are energetic and enthusiastic about having a great season,” said coach Crystal Shelley.
Her team’s biggest asset is its speed and quickness. Depth in the midfield, which will be led by Ellie Matthews, Kelly McQuilkin and Kaelin Shaw, is also a plus.
The team’s top returning scorers are Shaw and Day, each with 36 goals.
To pull out a victory over one of the traditional top county teams would make the Raiders’ season.
2012 record: 8-3, 9-5
Coach: Rachel Lenzo (first)
Key players: Juniors Sammy Albornoz (D), Alicia Hsieh (A) and Kay Kelly (MF); sophomore Martha Hutzell (MF).
The tweet: Graduation hit Centennial in three key areas: scoring, draw control and goalkeeping. Only four starters return from last year’s team.
Of Centennial’s 19-player squad, seven are sophomores and four are freshmen.
“This team is young, excited and ready to learn,” said coach Rachel Lenzo. “Each girl is bringing in a great set of skills and we are excited to see how they mesh together on the field.”
Alicia Hsieh, Martha Hutzell and Kay Kelly will need to step up to lead this year’s attack. The Eagles will have to control the ball and score when the opportunity is available.
2012 record: 8-3, 11-5
Coach: Ginger Kincaid (26th)
Key players: Seniors Danielle Baker (MF), Maribeth Blonchek (A), Erin Jollotta (D), Kendall Lutts (MF) and Tagne Vandewall (MF); juniors Stephanie Asher (MF) and Morgan Philie (D); sophomore Megan Taylor (GK).
The tweet: New uniforms won’t be the only new look at Glenelg this spring.
“We’re going to do a lot of things differently this season,” said coach Ginger Kincaid.
Expect a different offense and defense from the Gladiators and even some team depth.
With Megan Taylor back in goal, Kincaid is building the team from the goalkeeper forward. Taylor, only a sophomore, has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Maryland.
Stephanie Asher, Tagne Vandewall and Maribeth Blonchek will be Glenelg’s scoring leaders. Asher had 34 goals a year ago; Blonchek had 32.
The Gladiators are generally solid in the midfield.
2012 record: 0-11, 0-14
Coach: Bill Smith (third)
Key players: Seniors Nicki Gardes (A), Laura Loeffer (D), Shannon McCarthy (MF), Sarah Robey (MF), Michelle Sparling (A) and Paige Stout (MF); junior Keara Miller (MF); sophomore Brigid Mangan (A/MF); freshman Zoe Pekins (MF).
The tweet: Hammond’s got senior leadership on its side. Coach Bill Smith can put an entire senior lineup on the field.
“We’re determined and hard working,” said Smith of his team.
Sarah Robey, Keara Miller, Brigid Mangan, Zoe Pekins and Shannon McCarthy will lead Hammond on offense.
After an 0-fer season last spring, Hammond’s 12 seniors would like nothing more than putting a few wins in the scorebook before they graduate.
2012 record: 6-5, 10-7
Coach: Alleesha Davidson (third)
Key players: Seniors Bridget Graef (D), Abby Groft (A), Katie Maggio (D), Catherine Sims (MF), Charlotte Wilkenson (MF) and Kristen Woolschlager (A).
The tweet: This could be the payoff year for Howard with its eight seniors going out in style by leading the Lions up a notch in the county standings. Kristen Woolschlager (53 goals) and Abby Groft (18) are proven goal-scorers but will need help in that department.
But Howard is also young, so maybe the seniors’ legacy will be to help the team build a strong foundation for the future.
“I think we will play with a lot of heart and pride. They will make up for inexperience with hustle,” said coach Alleesha Davidson of her 24-player squad.
Howard’s strength is a willingness to learn and to improve.
“I really enjoy this group of girls and cannot wait to see what they can do,” Davidson said.
2012 record: 3-8, 5-9
Coach: Colleen Delaney (first)
Key players: Seniors Abby Caspar (MF), Hilary Balogh (D) and McKenzie Williams (A); juniors Jessica Bates (GK) and Imani Sanders (MF); sophomore Lillie Miller (MF).
The tweet: After nine years at the helm, Amy Davis has turned the varsity coaching reins over to JV coach Colleen Delaney.
“Every girl comes to practice every day ready to work and ready to improve,” Delaney said. “Our numbers are low (14 players), but all of the girls are completely dedicated to the team.”
Long Reach’s biggest asset is its speed, strength and skill in the midfield area.
Lillie Miller, McKenzie Williams and Imani Sanders are expected to lead the offense.
Long Reach wants to move up in the county ranks.
“Our team goal is to win two more games than last year,” Delaney said.
Goalkeeper Jessica Bates, a junior, has already made a verbal commitment to Campbell University.
2012 record: 11-0, 17-1 (county and District V champion)
Coach: Natalie Gaieski (seventh)
Key players: Seniors Maggie Brooks (A), Alex McKay (D) and Zoe Stukenberg (MF); juniors Marissa Davey (MF), Taylor Hensh (MF), Jenna Kerr (A), Amanda Miller (D), Rachel Ortell (GK) and Alexis Zadjura (D).
The tweet: Led by US Lacrosse High School All-American Zoe Stukenberg, Marriotts Ridge is poised for another outstanding year. Eight starters are back from last year’s county championship team. The attack is solid, the midfield scary fast and the defense more than capable.
Stukenberg, who had a county-leading 67 goals last year, and Alex McKay have signed with Maryland; Taylor Hensh has made a verbal commitment to go there.
“We have a fun, athletic group of creative players with a lot of speed,” said coach Natalie Gaieski.
Once again Stukenberg, Hensh, Marissa Davey, Jenna Kerr and Maggie Brooks will lead the Mustangs’ scoring.
2012 record: 10-1, 15-3 (3A/2A region champion; state semifinalist)
Coach: Trish Derwart (third)
Key players: Seniors Sam Brookhart (MF), Jessica Czulewicz (D), Maddy Fisher (GK), Jamie Schwartz (A) and Haley Sutton (A); junior Tianna Wallpher (D); sophomore Jen Giles (MF).
The tweet: The Vikings return 11 starters from a team that reached the 2012 Class 3A/2A state semifinals. Sam Brookhart heads up a squad that is loaded with talent. Her ability to control the draw determined the outcome of many games. She is an equal threat to score (40 goals) or assist (38).
Jamie Schwartz will direct the Vikings’ attack and Haley Sutton and Jen Giles will be key offensive components for the team.
Jessie Czulewicz and Tianna Wallpher, both relentless defenders, line up in front of goalkeeper Maddy Fisher.
Fisher is a three-year starter in goal and is headed to Georgetown University for lacrosse. In fact, five of the Vikings are headed to Division 1 college programs.
“We return an intact midfield and defense and have new-found depth at attack,” said coach Trish Derwart. “We are excited to see what they can do. … Our hard work ethic is by far our greatest strength.”
2012 record: 3-8, 4-9
Coach: Jamie Bowman (first)
Key players: Seniors Marlee Slaughter (MF), Rachel Hunter (MF), Chizoba Ukairo (D) and Meg Phillips (A); juniors Jordan Kerr (MF) and Kelsey Lamothe (D/MF); freshman Christine Woodcock (A).
The tweet: With eight seniors and six starters back from 2012, Oakland Mills could move up in the county standings. The Scorpions will look to Marlee Slaughter and Rachel Hunter to lead the offense, but some of the younger players are going to need to chip in, too.
“We have a group of hard working and dedicated girls who are looking forward to setting some goals for themselves and their program. Thus far this year they have gelled really well and it is obvious that they enjoy playing together,” said coach Jamie Bowman. “We may not have the highest numbers (16 on varsity), but everyone on the field is an asset and will be used to their full potential.”
Bowman, an Oakland Mills graduate, was the Scorpions’ junior varsity coach last spring.
2012 record: 1-10, 3-12
Coach: Katie Lee (third)
Key players: Juniors Leah Monroe (A) and Blair Bonner (D); sophomore Alexis Bartley (MF); freshman Megan Lieb (MF).
The tweet: The Gators bring back nine starters, but with three freshmen on the squad there is also a youth element. Leah Monroe, Megan Lieb and Alexis Bartley will head up the offense, with Blair Bonner pitching in if she moves to the midfield. There won’t be just one go-to girl for Reservoir this year, there will be several.
The exciting news for the Gators is freshman goalie Brianna Weinman.
“She looks promising and she couldn’t have come at a better time since we graduated our goalkeeper,” said coach Katie Lee.
“We have new young talent and skill at the positions,” Lee said. “They are motivated to build the program and move up in the rankings this year.”
2012 record: 6-5, 9-6
Coach: Kelly Berger (first)
Key players: Seniors Kelly Maloney (MF) and Abigail Thielemann (A); juniors Jenna Collins (MF) and Julia Collins (MF).
The tweet: As a new coach, Kelly Berger is still getting to know her players. Her efforts have been hampered by the success of the girls basketball team, which reached the state finals, and the school musical which drew others players away from practice. For playday, the varsity had to borrow one JV player in order to field a full team.
“From the few weeks of practice that we have had, I believe we have a combination of great strength and speed in the midfield, as well as great composure on both the attacking and defensive end,” Berger said.
River Hill’s top scorers return. Twins Jenna and Julia Collins combined for 56 goals last spring and twins Abigail and Kendall Thielemann combined for 46.
2012 record: 3-8, 4-11
Coach: Davia Procida (second)
Key players: Senior Eolondae Brown (GK); juniors Grayson Corbett (MF), Lauren Hutchison (GK) and Becca Riley (D).
The tweet: The Wildecats only have six returning players to their varsity this year. “Those six bought into the new philosophy to Wilde Lake lacrosse — hard work and dedication will equal success — they are committed to help build this program,” said coach Davia Procida.
“The underclassmen are also eager to be a part of the process of helping Wilde Lake become a competitive program in Howard County,” she added.
Grayson Corbett will lead the scoring with help from some of the four freshmen on the team.
Glenelg Country School
2012 record: 1-13 (IAAM B), 2-16
Coach: Paige Walton (14th)
Key players: Seniors KevynAnn Jorgenson (D) and Nicole Rieu (MF); juniors Cameron Baumgardner (GK) and Mallory Pappas (MF); freshman Megan Hooper (D).
The tweet: Although seven starters are back from last year, the Dragons are young. There are two seniors — KevynAnn Jorgenson and Nicole Rieu — on a 15-player squad that includes five freshmen. Last year’s leading scorer is not back so the scoring responsibilities will be shared as Rieu and Mallory Pappas run the offense. There is no JV team to draw from.
Glenelg Country has game knowledge and unity, but the team is going to be tested this season.
“This team wants to win and has pride in the school,” said coach Paige Walton. “We are going to have some tough games due to our size but we will face every challenge as a team. Our team realizes that we need to play as a team to be successful. It is not going to be a one-woman show. Everyone will need to step up.”
2012 record: 11-0 (IAAM C), 17-0
Coach: Colleen Norton (fourth year)
Key players: Seniors Katelyn Kerr (MF/A), Emily Roberts (GK), Kaitlyn Wetzel (GK) and Jen Yahiro (MF); juniors Christina VanWingerden (MF) and Hailee Winand (D); sophomores Julia del Carmen (MF/A), Casey Garlic (D) and Emma Rufolo (MF); freshman Katherine Cameron (MF).
The tweet: It took Norton three years to build a winless squad into an undefeated one. Can the Yellowjackets keep winning? The odds are good even with a mix of new and returning players.
“The experienced players are bringing the new players up to speed very quickly and helping them with their level of play. However, this is not the same team as last season and it is a very young team with a lot to learn and overcome,” said coach Colleen Norton. “They are eager to improve. Only time will tell how well the team plays together this year.”
Senior Jen Yahiro, who missed much of last year’s playoff run with a knee injury, is back and will be one of the team’s captains. She’ll get her share of goals, as will Emma Rufolo, Christina VanWingerden, Katelyn Kerr, Emily Frenz, Katherine Cameron and Julia del Carmen.
Chapelgate’s strength is its midfield and the Yellowjackets return two of three starters on low defense and both goalkeepers.