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Stoetzer: Fall high school sports a welcome return

It never quite feels like it in mid-August, but soon enough things will be different.

Nights will be crisp. Pumpkin spice will be everywhere (OK, if it’s not already). And hundreds of teenage athletes around Carroll County will be putting their skills on display.

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Another high school sports season is upon us, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Summers used to feel as if they flew by in our younger years. Vacations were cherished, and days spent outside were almost always memorable. The arrival of school put a stop to some of those good vibes, but for many it’s a Happy New Year of sorts.

Teammates catch up with one another after some time apart. Those who put in a lot of work in the offseason get a chance to show their improvement. Some use the first days, the dreaded tryouts, as the most important of the entire year.

Impress the coaches, and high school sports careers can blossom from the start.

Official games, other than golf, begin Sept. 6. Golfers get their opener this Friday, Aug. 23, with a gathering at Oakmont Green Golf Course in Hampstead.

Cross country, field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball get underway in two weeks.

And Carroll County has its share of standout teams.

Liberty football put together a 10-0 regular season in 2018, a first for the program and the fifth in county history. The Lions were one of three Carroll squads to make the postseason — Century joined Liberty in the Class 2A West playoffs, while Westminster made it to the 3A West final for a second straight year.

The county’s football landscape is changing a bit in 2019, with the state adopting nine-game schedules for the regular season and expanding its playoff field from 16 teams to 32 in each classification (the top eight in each region).

Expect to see your team battling for playoff position on those crisp, autumn Friday nights.

Liberty won its second field hockey state title in three seasons last fall when the Lions claimed the 2A title. Meanwhile, the boys cross country team added a fourth consecutive state championship.

Liberty is going after its fifth straight, rare air among Maryland’s public-school teams. Southern Garrett won five in a row from 1993-97, but Oakland Mills has the record with six straight (1984-89).

South Carroll also claimed a field hockey state title when the Cavaliers took the 1A championship.

Those accomplishments all took place last November, which must feel like the distant future right now with athletes and coaches sweating things out in the August mornings and afternoons.

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Fall comes in a hurry, however.

Liberty players rush to join their head coach Brenda Strohmer after she accepts the championship trophy following their 1-0 win over Hereford in the Class 2A field hockey state championship game at Washington College on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Liberty players rush to join their head coach Brenda Strohmer after she accepts the championship trophy following their 1-0 win over Hereford in the Class 2A field hockey state championship game at Washington College on Saturday, Nov. 10. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Carroll’s soccer teams will be aiming to return to the state tournament. The county failed to capture a regional title in 2018, after Century and Manchester Valley did so on the boys side and Winters Mill earned one on the girls side.

The Mavericks and Falcons enter this fall as the reigning boys and girls county champions.

Carroll’s soccer tradition is rich, but state crowns have been hard to come by. Yet the excitement of a new season has plenty of teams hoping and dreaming this is their year to finish on top.

That’s what is born from these August practices. A time to evaluate, yes, but also to form lasting bonds and groups of talented players that come together for a few months each year and enjoy success.

Take Westminster volleyball, which saw its previous two seasons end in the state semifinals. Or Aaron Sorkin, who got into a playoff and nearly won a 4A-3A state championship as a freshman for the Owls last fall.

Think those athletes are motivated to do well in 2019?

The county is about to find out how another fall sports season shapes up.

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