After the Dragons finished 18-0 with their second straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference championship a year ago, Walton and Reese decided to take a calculated risk. They would move their team into the A Conference in 2017.
They expected their team to be better this spring, but neither was sure what the Dragons would do against A Conference teams, which constitute the toughest girls lacrosse league in the country. Because they demolished everyone in the B Conference last year, the coaches figured it was time to find out.
The risk paid off in a big way.
The Dragons proved they could more than hold their own as they finished in a regular-season tie for third place and reached the A Conference tournament semifinals. They gave the No. 1 team in the country, eventual champ McDonogh, a battle before falling, 12-7.
The Dragons (15-5) went 10-5 against A Conference competition. They won four of six one-goal games. They avenged a 9-8 regular-season loss to No. 6 Archbishop Spalding with a 10-7 win in the tournament quarterfinals. They finished the season ranked No. 5 in The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 poll.
Walton and Reese fielded a young team but one with a lot of high-level club players. They said the biggest challenge wasn't physical, it was psychological.
"At the beginning of the season, I thought if we came out and played our game and weren't scared, weren't intimidated and put the work in, we could be really competitive in that league," said Reese, a St. Paul's graduate in his fourth season with the Dragons.
Walton and Reese spent a lot of time trying to instill in their players the confidence that they had what it took to compete with the best teams in the Baltimore area.
"To make that next step up you need to bring it every practice, you need to bring it every game. There are not going to be any games where we can show up and just do our thing and we'll still win. I think the team knew that going in, but it was obviously different than in previous years. They always came to compete when we were in the B Conference, but in the A Conference, you're competing against the best players at the high school level every game," said Walton, a Centennial graduate who has been the Dragons coach for 18 years.
Walton and Reese connected four years ago when their sons played on the same lacrosse team.
She soon asked him to join her at Glenelg Country School in western Howard County, hoping Reese's wealth of knowledge from coaching at every level from youth lacrosse to four years as an assistant to his wife, Cathy Reese, at Maryland to nearly a decade, at the time, with the Major League Lacrosse Denver Outlaws and Chesapeake Bayhawks.
The coaching dynamic works well between the two, now co-head coaches. They have the same vision to take a talented group of players as far as they can go. Both knew they were on to something in the A Conference when they won their season opener, 12-6, over Severn.
"After we played our first game against Severn and we played pretty well, I think the girls realized we can really compete in the A Conference. That really opened their eyes and they said, 'Wow, we're really pretty good.' Having them believe in themselves and having them believe they could compete at that level was the biggest challenge," said Reese, a St. Paul's graduate, All-America defenseman at Maryland in 1998 and now the Bayhawks' head coach.
Walton, who played college lacrosse at Randolph-Macon, has been a steady force in the emergence of the Dragons' program, but she's had no problem bringing in coaches who have played and coached at a higher level, including assistant coach Beth Glaros, a former Maryland All-America midfielder and Wilde Lake graduate whose sister Hannah plays for the Dragons.
"We're so lucky to have Beth, and Brian brings so much knowledge and experience from so many different levels," Walton said. "For me, it was, 'How can I help you?' When he came on, we were at a time when our seasons weren't going well. He brings so much experience about offense, midfield and defense, and about how to develop the program and help change the culture and have them be prideful in where they play. For me I've just been a constant. I try to make sure our girls — and Brian does as well — represent themselves and their school and that they're ready mentally and physically."
In their remarkable A Conference debut, the Dragons lost by more than one goal to only two teams — No. 1 McDonogh and No. 3 Notre Dame Prep. They fell by 10-goal margins to both during the regular season but cut that in half against McDonogh in the playoffs.
With just two players graduating, Walton and Reese have high hopes for the Dragons next season as they continue to try to build a program that can consistently challenge for the A Conference title.
The Dragons won back-to-back championships in the C Conference in 2003 and 2004. They moved up to the B Conference the following year and won the first of their three championships.