Just a year after finishing sixth in Carroll County, the Winters Mill boys track team last weekend completed its remarkable ascension to the ranks of the county's elite by running away with the county title.
The Falcons claimed five gold medals on the day to top second-place Liberty by 31 points. On the girls' side, North Carroll dominated to claim its third straight championship.
"We didn't really set any expectations," said Shelly Katzef, who co-coaches the team with Becki Ridgway. "We're a very young team. Coming into this season, we just wanted to get a feel of how the kids would do, so we went to more meets than we had in previous years and tried different people in different events.
"I think with each win, and each good placement in meets, we got more confidence."
The Falcons began the season with a sixth-place finish at the Quick Feet Meet in Landover, then won the Clear Spring Invitational before taking runner-up at the Frostbite Invite.
At the county meet, the Falcons gained three individual wins -- senior Evan Huggins in the 55-meter hurdles, junior James Ways in the 500 and junior Chris Frock in the 800 -- and also captured golds in the 800 and 1,600 relays.
The Falcons competed in Saturday's conference meet in Hagerstown, where they had their final tune-up before next month's regionals.
The team's ultimate goal, Katzef said, is to qualify as many athletes as possible for the Class 2A state meet, scheduled for Feb.¤18 in Landover.
There were a number of keys to No.¤4 North Carroll's 45-25 win over No.¤12 South Carroll in wrestlingf Wednesday, but perhaps none bigger than Kyle Lemmon's performance in the 125-pound weight class.
With his team trailing, 15-6, Lemmon, a junior, recorded a first-period takedown and later added an escape to defeat Rion Reiter, 3-1. Lemmon had lost on two different occasions to Reiter a year ago.
"After that," North Carroll coach Dave Dodson said, "it just snowballed."
It marked the first of six straight wins for Panthers, who saw Jeremy Seipp (130), Bryan Hoff (135), Ben Smearman (140), David Stout (145) and Chris Stout (152) stake them to a comfortable lead. Coming off a 40-19 loss to Urbana, the team's turnaround couldn't have happened at a better time.
"It was a great psychological thing. We needed to have that win," Dodson said. "The kids were obviously down about the loss against Urbana. We lost every close match in the middle [against Urbana]. That was the biggest thing we talked about -- we had to win the close match. The kids pulled through, and that was huge."
The victory left North Carroll as the only unbeaten team against county competition, putting the Panthers in prime position for a run at the county title.
"It gives us opportunity" said Dodson, whose team competed in the Franklin Tournament this weekend. "We still have Liberty, we still have Key and we still have Westminster. They're all capable of beating you at any time if you don't perform. We just can't have any slip-ups."
Nine county wrestlers have earned spots in the latest Maryland State Wrestling Association rankings, including four newcomers.
New to the rankings this week are Westminster junior Brian Lillehaug (honorable mention at 103 pounds), South Carroll junior Reiter (honorable mention, 125), North Carroll junior Hoff (honorable mention, 135) and Winters Mill junior Gus Mohlhenrich (honorable mention, 140).
Those returning from the previous rankings included South Carroll senior Cam Hobin (second, 119), North Carroll junior Seipp (honorable mention, 130), South Carroll senior Zac Stavish (fourth, 160), South Carroll senior Tyler Mullen (second, 171) and North Carroll senior Jason Thomen (third, 215).
It may be the middle of winter, but it's not too early for a pair of local players to start thinking about baseball season.
Liberty's Dan Litfin and Westminster's Phil Ruzbarsky have been selected to the 2008 Preseason All-State Team by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches.
Last spring, Litfin was a first-team All-County pitcher, while Ruzbarsky earned second-team honors as an outfielder. The seniors are the lone two Carroll players on the 30-player team.
To submit news and story ideas about Carroll County high school athletics, contact Rich Scherr at CarrollSports@comcast.net.