Howard senior Felix Knorr knew he was running out of time to make a change. He was regularly skipping school to hang out with friends, and it seemed like a matter of time until his family was uprooted for another destination in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. It happened about once a year, as his mom — a single parent — continuously searched for her next job and a way to try to support the family.
Knorr was barely a teenager when he decided that he was ready for a new life outside of the Deep South.
“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” he said, “and probably the most important, mature decision I’ve ever made. I came up here just to have a better life. It wasn’t a love-hate thing with my mom — I still love her — but it was the best situation for me and the best thing I could’ve done to accomplish what I wanted to do.”
And so in December 2013 — midway through his eighth-grade year — Knorr left his mom and two siblings in Marrero, Louisiana and moved to Columbia to live with his aunt, Kim Bates. Knorr found his fresh start, but the transition wasn’t always easy. He heard the snickers from his classmates even before he picked up a lacrosse stick.
“Maryland is very different from Louisiana,” he said. “My language — I would say ‘y’all’ a whole bunch, ‘booku.’ A lot of southern things. It’s really different here.”
He recalls “freaking out” the first time he saw snow and soon learned that making snowballs isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies. But the hardest part was adjusting to life at school and finding a place to fit in.
“It’s hard to put yourself in his shoes: A 13-year-old kid who decides to make a move away from his family for various reasons and move up here with his aunt and she steers him toward lacrosse,” said Howard coach Jimmy Creighton. “It kind of makes you think anything you’ve dealt with is kind of minor. Things you thought were major compared to him are little things.”
Knorr thought the best way to make friends was through sports, and he soon became friends with Bruce Phipps, who Knorr said always had his lacrosse stick with him. He was anxious to learn. Like adjusting to life more than 1,000 miles away from home, it didn’t come easy.
“I was trying out for six or seven teams and I couldn’t catch or throw,” Knorr said. “Most of the time the ball was going in the drains or rolling down the hills.”
His struggles continued until he found the faceoff X, where he immediately found his niche in the sport. He was a natural, and once he discovered his talent, he was all-in. Soon after he discovered Jeremy Rualo, an assistant coach at Calvert Hall and the co-founder of Inner Circle Lacrosse and Fast Break University, which specializes in faceoff training. His development took off from there.
“I was built from the ground up by Jeremy Rualo. He’s played a big part — he’s basically my father,” said Knorr. “He’s one of my biggest role models and he’s one of my best friends and my coach. ... When I decided I was going to start taking faceoffs, my aunt found him on the internet and we met up with him at Rockburn Park and had my first session and everything changed from there. I got really good.”
Within weeks of first picking up a lacrosse stick, Knorr was the starting faceoff specialist for the Long Reach varsity team as a freshman, where he won about 60 percent of his faceoffs.
He transferred to Howard before his sophomore year to join the Junior Reserve Office Training Corps (JROTC) program, and he was on another level over the next three seasons.
Knorr won 69.1 percent of his draws his first year with the Lions in 2016, 81 percent as a junior, and this spring he won 80 percent en route to winning Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys lacrosse Player of the Year. He led the league in win percentage all three seasons while scooping up a school-record 521 ground balls.
“Felix has a tremendous work ethic and tremendous focus for the faceoff,” Creighton said. “He’s always had pretty good technique, had pretty good hands and it seems like over the years those things have improved. Each year he has really transformed his game at the faceoff where he’s not just throwing the ball out to random places but he’s putting the ball specifically where defenders can’t get to them or putting them right in his teammates hands and making it simple for them.”
His impact on the game can’t be understated, either. While he spends the majority of the game watching on the sideline — sometimes it takes him only four or five seconds to win the faceoff, pass to an open teammate and race to the sideline — he watches his offense go to work and score goals. The one-in-five chance he fails, his defense is put to the test.
“It allows them to play make-it take-it,” Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera said. “Howard definitely has a very good offense, so having Felix out there, Howard is able to get on a run, and he prevents other teams from getting on a run.”
Knorr almost single-handedly took over several games this year. He won 20 of 21 faceoffs in a one-goal playoff victory against Dulaney. In the regional championship game, Knorr won 16 of 17 as the Lions blew out Urbana, 16-4. After he won all 23 faceoffs during a 15-5 win against Mt. Hebron in the regular season, Vikings coach Mike McCarthy said Knorr “might be the best ever in our county. Unbelievable.”
He had dominant performances as a junior, too. He corralled 15 of 17 against Patterson Mill and 16 of 21 against Severna Park in their first meeting. He did even better against the Falcons in the regional playoffs, winning 22 of 23.
“I just try to clear my mind and think of nothing but the first sound I hear,” Knorr said. “First sound I hear, I go. It’s nerve wracking because a lot of lacrosse is team based, but for those four or five seconds, it’s one-on-one. So either you’re doing well or you’re not doing so hot. It was just something I was able to do — zone out and focus on the ball — and doing my part.”
Having a dominant faceoff specialist isn’t new for Howard, which has won five regional titles in six years. John Travisano, the 2014 Howard County Player of the Year who went on to play for Notre Dame, won 83 percent as a senior. Ryan Land, now at Florida Tech, captured 72 percent of his faceoffs to lead the Lions to an undefeated season in 2015. But Knorr, who will play at Towson next year, was the most tenured and consistent of that group.
More important than his success on the field was his triumph in the classroom. Walking across the stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion in late May, Knorr became the first member of his family to graduate high school.
“It’s been great. I’ve just been having fun,” he said. “If you ask [assistant] coach [Mike] Kaplan, his nickname for me was ‘Smiley’ because he’ll yell at me and I’d just be having fun and I’d always be smiling. I think that’s a really big part of it, just having fun and enjoying things. So when I had the opportunity to play sports and let everything clear my mind and focus on something, it was a big deal for me. It helped me out a lot.”
Also named to the first team:
Mark Bruner, Howard, senior.
Bruner was selected to the first-team All-County for a third straight year. The Howard senior was “the quarterback on offense,” coach Jimmy Creighton said, and led the county with 57 goals and finished second in the league with 97 points.
“Mark is a team-first guy always,” Creighton said. “He will do whatever he can to help his team win. If that means he needs to facilitate and feed his teammates or if he needs to be the scorer, he will do what the team needs and take what the defense gives him.”
Bruner scored at least one goal in the last 17 games of the season and averaged 5.5 points per game in the postseason. He had seven goals against Reservoir, six against Bel Air and five against Centennial and Urbana. He ends his career with 114 goals and 98 assists and is the fourth player in Lions history to rack up at least 200 points.
Michael Doughty, Glenelg, junior.
Also the noted “quarterback” of his team’s offense, Doughty tallied a team-high 78 points, third most in the county this year, and was key for Glenelg’s best scoring offense in program history. The junior scored or assisted on 33 percent of the Gladiators’ tallies and finished the year with 24 goals and 54 assists.
“Michael has an incredibly high lacrosse IQ and has worked incredibly hard on aspects of his game that make a dual threat to both feed and score,” said coach Josh Hatmaker.
Doughty had at least one point in every game and had four goals and four assists against Atholton, six assists against Manchester Valley and seven helpers against Reservoir.
Brendan McKenna, River Hill, senior.
River Hill coach Keith Gonsouland said McKenna has the best skills of any player he’s ever coached. Opposing teams game planned to stop McKenna, especially after teammate Max Friedman tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire year. Still, McKenna was the Hawks’ leading scorer, as he finished the year with 46 goals and 20 assists despite missing the first two games.
“Brendan meant everything to our team this year this year,” Gonsouland said. “He not only led us in points but he gave our team hope after losing [All-County attackman] Max [Friedman]. ... What makes Brendan so special is his elusiveness, ability to change speed, and his stick skills, which are second to none.”
The Jacksonville University commit scored six goals against Centennial and Reservoir. He scored four or more goals seven times this spring, and he finishes his career as River Hill’s fourth all-time leading scorer (125 goals and 50 assists) and ninth all-time in ground balls.
Andrew Tiffey, Wilde Lake, senior.
Tiffey carried the scoring load for the Wildecats much of his career, as he had 42 goals last spring and 38 this season in just 12 games. But he is just as likely to be remembered for teaching his teammates and helping spread knowledge of the game at the school.
“Tiffey was one of the leaders on and off the field,” said Wilde Lake coach Mychael Gaines. “... His work ethic, drive, lacrosse IQ, passion for the game and spreading the love of game has made an enormous impact on Wilde lake. He has encouraged kids to play who wouldn’t normally gravitate towards playing lacrosse.”
Tiffey scored in 11 of his 12 games and had hat tricks in eight of them. He had six goals and 10 points against Meade, five goals and five assists against Long Reach and Glen Burnie, four goals and eight points against Hammond and five goals against North County.
Jeremy Wilson, Centennial, senior.
A two-time first-team All-County selection, Wilson will go down in the record books as one of the best to ever don an Eagles jersey. He started every game of his four-year career and owns the school record for points with 304, which is 99 points more than Evan Calvert’s 205. Wilson ended his career with 130 goals and 174 assists, and this spring he broke the school’s single-season scoring record with 100 points (40 goals and 60 assists).
“JJ’s greatest attribute has always been his unselfishness,” Eagles coach Nick Kellinger said. “He would rather get an assist than score. This unselfish style of play became a hallmark of our offense. ... Jeremy was simply the best player ever to play at Centennial.”
The Washington College commit led Centennial to its first regional championship since 2008 and was catalyst during that run. He had 25 points in four playoff games.
Talon Campbell, Reservoir, junior.
A year after scoring a county-best 49 goals and registering 69 points, Campbell nearly replicated that success this season with 48 goals and 14 assists in 14 games. He was Reservoir’s MVP and was a dominant two-way player who excelled on offense and defense. He scored in 13 games and had six or more goals four times, including a six-goal, 10-point performance in an 11-10 win against Old Mill.
“He works hard in practices and games, shares the ball, and is an unselfish player. He plays the entire game and gives up all his effort for his teammates,” Gators coach Bryan Cole said. “He always has a positive attitude and is ready to take on the challenge in important situations. It also helps that he is extremely shifty and fast and has a rocket for a shot.”
He enters his senior season with 100 career goals, 54 assists and 154 ground balls.
Troy Hettinger, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
Hettinger was one of the Mustangs’ most consistent performers this spring en route to their first state championship. He had at least one goal in their first 12 games and in 15 total, and he had a point in every game.
“Troy is one of the best athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera said. “He has a great skill set. He’ll be a benefit to Jacksonville University either as a short stick or a long stick. He has great vision, and he has the ability to win nearly every individual matchup, no matter if it is on offense or defense.”
Hettinger had 35 goals and 14 assists this spring and scored 16 goals in a four-game stretch midway through the year. He was also selected as the school’s most outstanding athlete by the coaches at Marriotts Ridge.
Luke Ingersoll, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
Ingersoll was a do-it-all midfielder who was like a coach on the field. He led the Mustangs in assists this spring with 30 and he also added 15 goals. The two-time first-team All-County selection was a captain for the basketball and lacrosse team and was selected as the school’s most unsung athlete by the coaches and was also an academic All-American.
“Luke’s knowledge of the game and field vision is what set him apart from his peers,” Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera said. “He is a very hard worker in the weight room, and he put the time in on the wall and shooting to make himself more of an offensive threat.”
Ingersoll scored the game-winning goal with 24.5 seconds left in a one-goal victory over Centennial. In the postseason, he had 11 assists in five games. The Swarthmore College commit finished his career with 38 goals, 73 assists (second in school history), 169 ground balls (seventh all-time) and 70 caused turnovers (11th all-time).
Tyler Reiff, Glenelg, junior.
Gladiators coach Josh Hatmaker calls Reiff an “old-school” midfielder. Reiff was their main threat at midfield this spring and was one of the most physical players as well.
“He plays with a forward lean, as I like to say, almost like a running back looking for contact to finish a run,” Hatmaker said. “Tyler does not care about contact and will take checks in order to finish.”
Reiff had some of his best games against the toughest competition. He had six goals and two assists in a win against Marriotts Ridge in the regular season and then scored four times in a one-goal victory against Howard. He finished the year with 43 goals and seven assists and had at least one goal in 15 of Glenelg’s 16 contests.
Ricky Fedorchak, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
Fedorchak was one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league this year and developed into a shutdown defender in the playoffs. He held some of the league’s top offensive players to minimal offensive outputs.
“Throughout the month of May, Ricky emerged as arguably the top defenders in the county, and one of the top defenders in the state,” Mustangs coach Tony Incontrera said. “He held Mt. Hebron’s Garrett Snyder to an assist, played Glenelg’s Michael Doughty extremely well in a very difficult matchup in the sectional finals, he held Towson commit Sean Mooney of Kent Island without a goal in their one-on-one matchup.”
In the state championship game, Fedorchak rotated to matchup against Hereford’s JD Nozemack, who entered the game with 60 goals, and helped hold him to just two goals.
Wes Mills, Howard, senior.
A two-year starter, Mills patrolled the middle of the field and was able to consistently shutdown opposing team’s No. 1 midfielders. He was key in the transition game as well, as he started many of Howard’s fast breaks.
“He has a great knack to take the ball away from his opponent and pick the ball up to push transition,” Lions coach Jimmy Creighton said. “His ability to do this produced many goals for our team and many added possessions.”
Mills was also a captain this spring and “brought high energy every day in practice and competed every day and every game,” Creighton said. Mills finishes his career with 124 ground balls, 85 caused turnovers, five goals and six assists. He will play collegiately at Elizabethtown.
Stafford Smith, Centennial, junior.
Smith is one of the most well-rounded defenders in the county. The junior was the “anchor of our defense,” Eagles coach Nick Kellinger said, because of his ability to fill several roles on the unit.
“He is a great on-ball defender but he also is an excellent communicator, directing the defense,” Kellinger said. “He is able to play close defense or LSM, and lock down the opposition’s best player.”
The three-year starter played some of his best games in the postseason. He excelled in the second half of the 3A state semifinal game against Northern-Calvert and even scored a goal in transition to help Centennial nearly complete the comeback. He also led the county with 57 caused turnovers.
Ben Stephanos, Howard, junior.
Stephanos is already a three-year starter and has committed to UMBC. He was the Lions’ shutdown defender and defended every opposing team’s No. 1 attackman. Howard coach Jimmy Creighton says Stephanos’ physicality, high IQ and ability to put the ball on the ground and pick it up were keys for a defensive unit that was among the best in the league.
“Ben is a great leader and has a great IQ of the game,” Creighton said. “He can dissect another team’s players and offense, he can counter attack what they do, plan and prepare and execute any game plan. He plays with great poise and composure. ... Ben had many great games this season. I think a few that stand out are games against Marriotts Ridge, Southern, South River and Centennial, during which he had great on-ball defense and defended some excellent attackmen very well.”
Colin Kelley, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
A Player of the Year candidate and one of two All-Americans from the county, Kelley was a rock in goal and key for the Mustangs in their run to the state title. He’s started every game since his freshman year, and the Mercer University commit has developed into one of the top goalies in the state. He was a captain this season and played for Team Baltimore in the Under Armour Underclassmen games last summer.
“Colin plays great in clutch situations. He is an excellent goalkeeper that makes the saves that he has to make, and makes quite a few that he has no business making,” Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera said. “The kids play with confidence knowing that they have a great goalkeeper behind them that allows them to take chances knowing he will cover for any mistake that they may make.”
Kelley made six saves in the state championship game, several of which were from point-blank range, and he also had big games against Glenelg and Southern in the playoffs, which were both one-goal victories. He finished the year with 147 saves and a save percentage of 65 percent.
Robbie Noyes, Glenelg, senior.
An injury last year cost Noyes a shot to compete for the starting spot but he made up for it with a big senior season to continue a trend of excellent goalie play for the Gladiators. Noyes was consistent from start to finish and didn’t allow double-digit goals in any game, finishing the year with 139 saves and a .66 save percentage.
“He was a true leader that always took responsibility for the defense as a whole, was always positive,” Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker said. “The way that he prepared all year after his significant injury was impressive. ... He was the leader and a rock in cage for our defense this year. He made some huge saves over the year.”
Peter Geier, Marriotts Ridge, senior, attack
Mateo Brown, Mt. Hebron, sophomore, attack
Peter Krawczyk, Centennial, junior, attack
Nick Miller, Oakland Mills, senior, attack
Jeff Bruner, Howard, sophomore, midfield
Charlie Hockersmith, Centennial, junior, midfield
Ryan Hopkins, Glenelg, junior, midfield
Cameron Martin, Glenelg Country, senior, midfield
Garrett Snyder, Mt. Hebron, sophomore, midfield
Andrew Luciano, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore, faceoff
Mason Davis, Glenelg, sophomore, faceoff
Johnny Chaisson, Glenelg, senior, defense
Phil Johnson, Glenelg, senior, defense
Jordan Nalls, Glenelg, senior, defense
Andrew Page, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore, defense
David Mauser, Howard, senior, goalie
Jack Schlossberg, Centennial, senior, goalie
MIAA B Conference All-Stars
Mikey Welsh, Glenelg Country, senior, attack
Cameron Martin, Glenelg Country, senior, midfield
Christian Krauch, Glenelg Country, senior, defense
Calder VandenHeuvel, Glenelg Country, junior, defense
MIAA C Conference All-Star
Josh Na, Chapelgate, senior, goalie
Bob Scott Award
Max Friedman, River Hill, junior
Colin Kelley, Marriotts Ridge, junior, goalie
Felix Knorr, Howard, senior, faceoff
Charlie Hockersmith, Centennial, junior, midfield
Luke Ingersoll, Marriotts Ridge, senior, midfield
Co-Assistant Coaches of the Year
Mike Kaplan, Howard
Joe Derwent, Glenelg
Head Coach of the Year
Tony Incontrera, Marriotts Ridge
Man of the Year