Parity isn't a word that has been used often when referring to girls lacrosse in Carroll County. Two weeks into this season, however, it finally seems fitting.
Following years of domination by Century, and prior to that Liberty, the county's girls lacrosse landscape seems to be changing. Last spring, the Knights suffered their first-ever county loss to Liberty, and wound up sharing the county title with both the Lions and Westminster.
Now, they are among four teams -- more than half of the county -- that appear to have a shot at the title.
Case in point: Winters Mill on Tuesday handed Century, the two-time defending Class 2A-1A state champion, a 17-16 loss in overtime. A week prior, however, Winters Mill had lost to Westminster, 8-7.
And don't forget Liberty, which was 6-0 entering this weekend, but won't face Winters Mill, Century or Westminster until the Lions play all three in the span of a week to close out the regular season.
"I think it's so much more competitive than it was three, five, seven years ago," Falcons coach Courtney Vaughn said. "I think it's going to be tight games throughout the county with Westminster, Century, Liberty and Winters Mill. There are going to be a lot of one-goal games."
Coaches credit the growth of local recreation programs, which are helping players gain key skills at earlier ages, as well as the emergence of the Check-Hers and Central Maryland lacrosse clubs, which are giving more county players the opportunity to work on their games out of season.
"While it seems like it's taken time, I think gradually, little by little ... the feeder programs have just developed and gotten better and better," Century coach Rose Pentz said. "Subsequently, the high school teams that are fortunate to get those players are able to perform at a higher level."
Vaughn knows that as well as any. When the former Liberty coach moved to the newly opened Winters Mill in 2002, she found herself with a roster full of inexperienced players, including many who hadn't learned the basic skills of the sport.
"I think I had three kids that had ever picked up a stick," Vaughn recalled. "Now, we may have three kids on our varsity that don't play club lacrosse. To be able to compete in this sport, for good or bad, you can't just pick up a stick in March and put it down in May. You have to have it your hands 12 months a year."
And with more players competing year-round, the county's top teams are finding there aren't as many automatic wins on the schedule as years past, when the elite always could count on lopsided victories over the lower echelon.
"You can't go into any game thinking that it's your game," said Dee Muskin, the first year coach of Westminster. "You have to go in with the attitude that you have to fight to win. I think that brings up the level of play, for sure."
That's one of the main reasons Winters Mill scheduled preseason games against teams such as Towson and St. Paul's, and Westminster scheduled a scrimmage against McDonogh.
"They learn much more from a game where they're playing quality teams, because they're in situations that they're not going to be in doing a game where they have the ball 80 or 90 percent of the time," Pentz said.
Said Vaughn, "Nobody wants to win games by 10 or 15 goals. I'd rather play tough competition."
New running site
Looking for a way to better promote Carroll County running, Liberty track coach Bobby Ward has turned to the Internet.
Ward recently launched a new Web site called Carroll County Running (www.carrollcountyrunning.com), which features county results, performance rankings and an active message board, and eventually will include a complete list of county records.
"Frederick County has one, Montgomery County has one," Ward said. "I kind of always did it with ERR [Eldersburg Rogue Runners], keeping results, but I finally decided to expand it and have a site just for high school running sports."
Ward said his relationships with the county's other track coaches make it easy for him to compile results. He also said that having a dedicated site eliminates the need for local coaches and athletes to sort through the mountains of results featured on a handful of state-oriented sites.
"It's easier for our county to get access to all our information, instead of looking through thousands of results on another Web site that covers everything," he said. "We can find everything for our county in just one spot."
One of Ward's goals is to create an archive of past results. During the indoor track season, he was able to archive every Monocacy Valley Athletic League meet, and now is working to do the same for the Carroll County championships.
Woodyard to sign
Cammeron Woodyard, The Sun's Carroll County Player of the Year who this season led Winters Mill to the county's first state basketball title since 1947, will sign his national letter of intent on April 16 to attend Penn State.
The 6-foot-5 guard, who averaged 20.3 points, five rebounds and three assists per game for the Falcons, orally committed to the Nittany Lions in mid-February.
McDonald's Roundball wrap-up
A handful of county basketball players recently had the chance to wear their uniforms one more time at the McDonald's Roundball Classic, a series of all-star games featuring players from parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Westminster forward Bobby Krauk scored a team-high 13 points, with Liberty guard Colton Weaver scoring four and Winters Mill guards Woodyard and Devon Lesniak adding seven and five, respectively, as their South squad fell to the North, 82-77, in the Tri-State Elite boys game.
In the Boys' Shining Stars game at the same event, Liberty's Ryan Miller scored two points in a losing effort, as his North squad fell to the South, 61-44.
A pair of Winters Mill girls, guards Jen Peters (eight points) and Jordan Neville (two), were on the losing end of a 54-52 win by the North over the South in the Tri-State girls game.
Winters Mill, however, did make a strong showing in the School Hot Shots competition, a mixed shooting contest.
Woodyard and Neville teamed up to advance to the finals of the 12-team event before falling to Middletown's Michael Oursler and Kelsey House.
To submit news and story ideas about Carroll County high school athletics, contact Rich Scherr at CarrollSports@comcast.net.