Following its loss to South River in the 3A/4A state semifinals last May, Howard boys lacrosse players and coaches regrouped and took stock of the program.
The team had won 16 games in 2013 — the most victories in school history. Still, coach Jimmy Creighton, now in his fourth year at the helm of the team, couldn’t help but think the team left something out there.
“We knew we had a pretty good team coming back, and we knew who we had coming up,” he said. “We just knew we had the pieces in place to do something special.”
Offensively, players like John Travisano, Cody Ford, Brad Zulick and Scott Bruner were all expected to be heavy contributors. On defense, Peter Emery, Marshall McGlone Adam Friedman, Nick Demers and goalie Bryan Mauser were all familiar with one another. The chemistry was there, as was the experience and the team attitude. All Creighton’s team needed was an offseason to work for it.
This year, the Lions built off that past success, taking it to a level that no one on the team could have predicted. On the way to its first county title in over 20 years, the team finished the regular season 11-0 in league play, and 14-0 overall — a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the county since Glenelg in 2008.
That year, the Gladiators won a state championship.
“It’s a huge step for our program to be on top of the county this year,” Creighton said. “To get over that mountain, I think everyone feels pretty good about it. But, at the same time, if you ask most of our guys, they’re all thinking about what’s next.”
The Lions have been notorious for their intense film study throughout the season, both organized and on the players’ own time. That extra knowledge of their opponents can come in handy, but some on the team say the most important key to their success this season lies within the team’s discipline.
“We aren’t the kind of team that’s going to just play with our sticks and try to get checks in,” said Emery, a senior defender. “We’ll do whatever we can to protect the crease, but our team would rather just make sure there’s no easy passes.”
Creighton said his team plays smart on the defensive side of the ball, a big reason why opponents have failed to muster any significant attack against them all season.
Teams average just 2.2 goals per game against the Lions, who have racked up four shutouts along the way.
“People know the roles, and they know what’s expected,” Emery added.
On the other side of the ball, it’s clear that Howard isn’t shy about putting points on the board.
In 14 games, the potent Howard offense has scored 185 times — many of which came thanks to Travisano’s ability to create extra possessions from the faceoff position.
This time next season, the Notre Dame commit will be battling it out against some of the nation’s top players. For now though, he’s relishing the moment, knowing that an undefeated season in league play is something to be proud of.
“It was a little bit of a surprise (not to lose a game). We definitely thought we had the potential to do great things this season, and we were lucky enough to get those goals accomplished,” he said. “I think we need to keep on preparing, because there’s some great opponents ahead.”
Howard’s monumental season thus far comes during the 50th anniversary of the program’s inception. In 1964, a group of Lion athletes banned together to play the game of lacrosse — one that had zero footing in Howard County at the time.
They were successful in their mission to get the sport noticed, and on April 4, members of that initial club squad were recognized at Howard High School at halftime against Long Reach. What Creighton said he didn’t realize, though, is how much of an impact that would make on his team.
“It’s mentioned pretty often that you’re not just playing for yourself, but the guys that wore the jersey before you,” he said. “For them to meet the guys who laid the groundwork was pretty special.”
With many tough challenges ahead, including a possible Section I matchup against defending state champion Westminster, Emery said it’s OK for his teammates to be proud of the regular season, as long as they know the task at hand.
“The stars kind of aligned. It’s just really cool to see the whole thing unfold right now,” Emery said. “We’ve been doing so much work. Finally we’re starting to reap the benefits. But, we must keep moving forward with it.”