Jake Stevens did his homework on the Mt. Hebron boys lacrosse program before he ever donned a Vikings jersey.
Stevens had one aspiration before graduating in four years time — become the top scorer in Mt. Hebron history and possibly in the county.
"The first thing that I did as a freshman was look at the records and decided where I wanted to be," Stevens said. "I definitely had an idea of what I wanted to do before I got out of this place."
Season-by-season, Stevens' goal and assist totals began pilling up. Whether he was dodging right, left or flying down the alley, the crafty left-hander had a knack for putting the ball in the net.
"Jake was definitely focused on seeing how he stacked up with some of the great players who have come through here," Vikings coach Mike McCarthy said. "He is very goal-oriented, which is kind of a pun. He was very interested in his statistics being better than everyone else's.
"He took it personally if there was someone better than him. He always competed and tried to be the best."
When Stevens walked off the field for the final time this spring, he made good on his objective. He finished his career with 234 goals and 125 assists to finish as the program's all-time scoring leader with 359 points.
It was far from easy for the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times boys lacrosse Player of the Year, however.
The focal point of opposing defenses was to slow him down. Stevens garnered the attention of every team's top defender and often fought through double-teams — but not much worked.
"Jake is an unbelievable talent," Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker said. "He is extremely strong and athletic. The thing about Jake is that he analyzes the game and waits for you to make a mistake. Then, he is able to capitalize on those mistakes."
After tying Glenelg's Nick Wynne with 116 points to lead the county last season, Stevens stood all alone atop the leaderboard this year with 92 points on 65 goals and 27 assists.
Incredibly enough, he admits going to the well repeatedly with the same move, but defenses have rarely been able to stop it.
"I always go left," Stevens said. "I like to go up top, fake right and then go left. They always bite right for some reason; I don't know why? I can go right but I don't trust it enough, which is something I'm going to work on."
Stevens burst onto the scene as a freshman by scoring 64 points (43 goals, 21 assists). By sophomore year, he increased his totals to 55 goals and 32 assists and county coaches knew then of his ability to take over games.
Last season, he posted one of the best individual efforts in county history with 71 goals and 45 assists. His outstanding season was highlighted by an eight-goal, five-assist performance in the playoffs against Glenelg.
"The biggest change from his time as a freshman to his senior year was how he became so much more efficient in his scoring," Hatmaker said. "I will not miss preparing for him."
Stevens could be seen scoring highlight reel goals on the field but his success started before he stepped on the field on game days. Always studying film, he knew what his opponent's wanted to do before they could do it.
"My job as an attackman is to score, so I made sure that I always found a way to get the ball in the goal," Stevens said. "Watching film helps me to know where the best place to shoot is. The worst thing you can do is get an open shot and not know where you want to put it."
Stevens will head to storied Division III powerhouse Salisbury University this fall. But he wasn't always sure that he wanted to be a Sea Gull with Division I schools like UMBC, Delaware and High Point showing interest.
"I actually cancelled my first visit," Stevens said. "Once I got there, it was completely different from what I expected. Turns out, it was the only place that I really want to be."
After falling in love with the school, coach Jim Berkman put the finishing touches on his recruitment efforts.
"When I got there, coach told me that every kid that has (played) at Salisbury since 1995 has won a national championship," Stevens said. "He also said that even though the other schools that I was looking at might be Division I, they might go 8-8. But there, I'm going to win."
Stevens' assignment this summer might be to study the Salisbury men's lacrosse record book and see where he can ink his name into it over the next four years.
Also named to the all-county first team.
Scott Bruner, Howard sophomore. Bruner broke onto the scene with 59 goals and 21 assists this season, finishing with the third highest point total in the county (80). One of the bigger attackman in the league, Bruner used his size and strength to get to the cage.
"Scott did it all from his attack position — performing as a finisher, feeder and dodger," coach Jimmy Creighton said. "He's a good shooter who has a nose for the goal. His hard work in the off-season has truly paid off as he put up big numbers in 2013."
Bruner became a leader on the offensive side of the ball for Howard, and had a big role in the team's march to the Class 4A/3A East regional championship and state semifinals appearance. In the postseason, he contributed 15 goals and 12 assists in five games.
Nick Forrest, Glenelg junior. Forrest was a major catalyst on offense for the Gladiators, especially in the 3A/2A state semifinals game against Kent Island. Trailing by three goals late in the fourth quarter, Forrest put Glenelg on his back. The junior scored twice in a four-goal run — including the game-winner with 30 seconds left — to help the Gladiators return to the state championship game.
"Nick is dynamic dodger and scorer, who is a constant worker looking to hone his game," coach Josh Hatmaker said. "Nick is a lax rat; he always has a stick in his hand working on some aspect of his game."
A second-team selection a year ago, Forrest finished as the county's second-leading scorer this season with 54 goals and 34 assists.
Adam Huber, Mt. Hebron senior. Huber took a lot of pressure off of Vikings teammate Jake Stevens' shoulders as a playmaker on offense. When opposing teams focused on Stevens, Huber made them think twice. He scored a career-high 50 goals to go along with 29 assists during his senior campaign.
"Adam is a big, physical presence who has a great sense of the game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He is a tremendous athlete who can dominate a game by scoring, but he also led our team in assists this season."
A three-year starter, Huber continued to improve with each season. He will play lacrosse at Canisius College next spring.
Stephen Latona, Centennial senior. A repeat first-team selection, Latona didn't disappoint in his final season. The spark plug for a potent Eagles offense, he scored 60 goals — which was second-most in the league. He added 17 assists and had an average of 4.53 points per game.
"Latona is truly a leader by example," coach Nick Kellinger said. "His unselfishness played a major role in our team's success this season."
Latona's effectiveness on offense — especially on the man-up unit — allowed him to score five or more goals in six contests this season. He will play next season at Shenandoah University.
Kyle Courtney, Atholton senior. Courtney has been the definition of a team player during his time with the Raiders. His unselfishness was evident as he always looked for the extra pass instead of taking a contested shot.
"He is a rare kind of player who has all of the intangibles and a tremendous skill set," coach Erik Burnett said. "A complete player who could play defense, Kyle gets ground balls and can beat long poles in individual matchups. He was a natural leader for his teammates."
A second-team pick last season, Courtney raised his game with 15 goals and 23 assists this season. He has committed to play lacrosse for Furman University.
Mark Darden, Glenelg senior. Darden has been a consistent scoring threat from the midfield during his tenure as a starter for the Gladiators. His speed and instincts made it easy for him to clear the ball in transition and put his team in position to score.
"Mark has great vision and works tirelessly to improve his game," coach Josh Hatmaker said. "He constantly faces double teams, which doesn't seem to faze him, as he will consistently split them for scoring opportunities."
Darden's main role wasn't only to clear the ball, however. He was also counted on to pick up his scoring production. The Hobart College-bound senior collected 46 goals and 12 assists this season, and has registered 139 points over the last three years.
"Darden is the most dynamic dodging middie we have had here since I became the head coach," Hatmaker said. "He has the ability to take over a game and score from anywhere."
John Keohane, Howard senior. Keohane did a little of everything for the Lions this season. An old-fashioned two-way midfielder, Keohane was among the leaders on his team in ground balls (76) and points (47), while acting as the main option to clear the ball.
"He's great on ground balls especially from the wing on face-offs," coach Jimmy Creighton said. "John picked up his offensive production this season with his goals and assists but was truly great in between the lines in the riding and clearing game."
Keohane finished the season with 27 goals and 20 assists, but acting as the safety valve for the Lions' goalies in the clearing game may have been his biggest impact. He will play lacrosse next year at Christopher Newport University.
Tyler Wasson, Glenelg junior. Wasson has been a mainstay on the Gladiators' midfield unit for three straight seasons. Contributing as a freshman on Glenelg's last state championship team in 2011, Wasson has continued to grow into a scoring threat on each and every possession.
"Tyler is a great athlete who puts a great deal of pressure on the defense, matchup wise, because of his size and speed," coach Josh Hatmaker said. "He has the ability to shoot on the run or with time and room. He has great vision, which makes him a duel threat offensively."
Hatmaker believes that Wasson's most "overlooked skill" is his play on the defensive end of the field. He scooped 58 ground balls while adding 48 points on 28 goals and 20 assists. He has already committed to Navy.
Anthony Pagnotta, Glenelg senior. A Player of the Year finalist, Pagnotta was the driving force behind the Gladiators' run to the 3A-2A state championship game. The Towson University-bound FOGO guy dominated at the faceoff X. Because of his ability to win the ball, in some contests this season opposing teams would go several minutes without a single possession.
"The ultimate weapon, 'Pags' is able to control a game from the onset, put pressure on the other team and force mistakes," coach Josh Hatmaker said. "He is able to start transition and push fast breaks from the X. He has a great stick and is a great finisher inside."
For the second straight season, the coaches unanimously voted to create a special spot for him on the all-county team. Pagnotta led the league in ground balls (187), while also winning .727 percent of faceoffs (248-for-341). He also added 11 goals and two assists on offense.
During his career, Pagnotta won 678 of 967 faceoffs — a 70 percent clip — while adding 24 goals and nine assists for the Gladiators who have amassed a 52-7 overall record with three state title appearances in that time.
Paul Bennett, Marriotts Ridge senior. A repeat first-team selection, Bennett again proved why he has been one of the top defenders in the county over the past three seasons. Standing at 6-foot-4, his reach allowed him to create turnovers and made life hard for offensive players even when they were able to get around him on the first move.
"Paul was the most dominating defensive player in the county this past season," coach Tony Incontrera said. "I've never seen a player that could not only dislodge the ball from an opponent on a consistent basis, but could also take the stick from him just as easily."
Unfortunately, Bennett's career came to a premature end when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, as well as meniscus, in his knee during a late-season contest. In just 10 games, he was able to secure 74 ground balls and cause 49 turnovers.
Chase Conley, Centennial junior. Conley was the leader of an Eagles defensive unit that only allowed one opponent to score double-digit goals in 17 games. The junior is a physical player who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to cause a turnover or scoop up a ground ball.
He wasn't often tasked to matchup with the opposition's top player, leaving him available to slide and use his insttincts, which kick-started Centennial's transition game. He could often be seen clearing the defensive zone.
"Chase's instincts make him a great takeaway defender, he provided a real spark in defense to offense transition," coach Nick Kellinger said.
Conley finished the season with 90 ground balls and created 62 turnovers.
Connor Dubois, Mt. Hebron junior. Undoubtedly the Vikings' leader on defense, Dubois was always matched up with the opposing team's biggest scoring threat. He isn't the tallest defender in the county, but his strength and lacrosse savvy allowed him to lead Mt. Hebron's defensive unit in takeaways, ground balls and assists.
"Connor is our coach on the field. He is able to dominate his individual matchup, and at the same time create turnovers and generate offense for us," coach Mike McCarthy said.
Dubois, a second-team selection last season, collected 83 ground balls and had 51 caused turnovers to go along with four assists.
Drew Dziwulski, Glenelg senior. The name Dziwulski has been around the Gladiators' program for quite some time and Drew has spent the last four years upholding that tradition of standout players, serving as a consistent contributor since his freshman season.
A tough defender who outworks his opponents with a constant motor, his grit will be on display in the fall when he attends the United States Naval Academy.
"He's the hardest working kid I have ever coached," coach Josh Hatmaker. "(He) has a great stick, and is great at starting transition and getting the ball up and out of the defensive zone."
Dziwulski finished his final season with 85 ground balls and 43 caused turnovers on a defense that held county opponents to 4.14 goals per game. He also scored three goals and added an assist.
Landry Marshall, Glenelg junior. A two-year starter, the junior cemented himself as the Gladiators' defensive leader. Marshall's incredibly quick hands and instincts make him one of the top goalies in the county. He is the quarterback of the county's stingiest defense.
"Landry has upped his game and is now on the same level as some of the great keepers we have had here at Glenelg," coach Josh Hatmaker said. "He has an unbelievable work ethic and studies film constantly to understand what shooters are looking for."
Marshall had a stellar overall season, saving 177 of 276 shots (64.1 percent) in 19 games. But against county opponents, he stepped his game up to another level — stopping 157 of 201 shots (78.1 percent).
Bryan Ruygrok, Centennial senior. Known as 'Rock' around the Eagles program, Ruygrok was more like a stonewall. The McDaniel College-bound goalie was at his best when the game was on the line. In a 3A-2A East regional semifinal contest against Mt. Hebron, Ruygrok stopped two point-blank shots on the doorstep inside the final three minutes to help Centennial advance to the championship game.
"He's a complete goaltender who can put a team on his back," coach Nick Kellinger said. "Rock is a game-changer. He's always at his best in the biggest moments."
The senior finished with 142 saves and a save percentage of 62.0 — allowing just 5.1 goals per game.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun