Despite losing to St. John's in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference semifinals the past two seasons, St. Vincent Pallotti's boys lacrosse team is eager for a new challenge in the B Conference.
The Panthers, who went 4-13 in their last season in the B conference in 2011, finished 13-4 the past two seasons and won their conference division.
Fourth-year coach Kris Weaver, however, thinks his young team is ready for the tougher B conference after "teaching these guys how to win" in the C conference.
Pallotti, which graduated 13 seniors from last years' team, was 2-3 through five games and 0-2 in the new conference.
The Panthers suffered close losses to Annapolis Area Christian, 7-6, and Friends, 5-4.
Weaver said once the players realize they belong in the B conference, the one-goal games will swing the other way.
"We've had a lot of young guys step up and we have a huge, strong freshmen class on varsity," Weaver said. "We have seven or eight (freshmen) who get substantial playing time."
Freshman Hunter Smith leads the team with 11 goals through five games.
But Weaver said it will be the senior leadership that is the key to the team's success.
Instead of assigning captains as in past years, the seven seniors asked Weaver not to choose captains for the season.
They have different captains for each game.
"I think it's a testament to the senior class," Weaver said. "They didn't want three guys to be named it because one of them said, 'Coach, if you name three guys and leave four guys out, maybe they take it to heart and they're not as good a leader. Instead you have all of us out there.' They do it naturally."
Weaver believes the offense is the most improved unit despite the lack of goals early in the season.
In years past, the Panthers relied heavily on one or a few players to score.
The coach noted he has 10 guys who can score this season.
The defense is possibly the strongest group, led by veterans Marc James, a three-year varsity player, and K.J. Jernigan, a transfer from DeMatha who started on varsity as a sophomore.
Sophomore Justin Wilson (seven goals) leads the midfield and is a serious scoring threat.
"This team doesn't really have a winning tradition," Jernigan said. "I'm trying to come in here and get these kids spirits up, get them used to winning, get them wanting to win."
The Panthers' goal is to make it to the playoffs in the B conference.
Weaver said that despite a slow start, the Panthers need to take the losses in stride. He added it will be the little things that make the difference throughout the season.
"Everybody's got to go home, including the coaches, and say, 'What can I do to make that goal difference?' Because if everybody does that, that's the difference in winning and losing one-goal games and it's the difference in teaching a team how to win. … Once they realize how good they can be, which I think they're learning, it will be great to watch."