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Stoetzer: 2015-16 was so-so, and then it wasn't

Westminster pitcher Emily Maseth celebrates a triple play during the MPSSAA Maryland State 3A Softball Championships at Robert E. Taylor Field in College Park on May 29, 2016.Westminster won 10-5. (photo by Scott Serio / May 29, 2016)
Westminster pitcher Emily Maseth celebrates a triple play during the MPSSAA Maryland State 3A Softball Championships at Robert E. Taylor Field in College Park on May 29, 2016.Westminster won 10-5. (photo by Scott Serio / May 29, 2016)(photo by Scott Serio / Carroll County Times)

I'm somewhat torn here, wanting to put a cap on the 2015-16 high school sports year in Carroll County by saying it was, well, so-so.

Torn because some of the more popular sports failed to produce a regional champion. Because the excitement of the new Carroll County Athletic League, which gave us official county championship games in almost every sport, was muted in some cases where the best teams resided in one division and the title games were duds.

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Torn because any outstanding achievements from one school were sure to take a back seat to one of the biggest issues in Carroll these days, that the school was slated for closure.

All it takes is a run to a state championship to erase any frayed feelings.

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Five county teams experienced what it's like to be crowned a state champ in 2015-16. Each one had its own storylines, its own emotional wave ridden by athletes, coaches, and parents alike. Each one made me realize the sports year wasn't so so-so after all.

Liberty's boys cross country team was in a self-described rebuilding year last fall. The Lions showed well at the county meet by taking second, then won the Class 2A West meet on the home course. That's all it took for them, led by junior Nick Tilson's second-place finish at Hereford High School, to secure the 2A state title the following week.

(South Carroll's Brian Cave won the individual boys race, giving the county even more state prowess that day.)

Longtime coach Dan Jones, who has five state championships in cross country now, simply explained the Lions "just ran out of their shorts all year long."

Well put, coach.

On the same day Liberty celebrated another cross country title, North Carroll's boys soccer team was advancing in the 1A state tournament. The Panthers were trying to win their second championship in three seasons, but this one caught the attention of an entire region of the county.

North Carroll is one of three Carroll schools closing in a few weeks. Back in November, the Carroll County Board of Education hadn't voted on it yet. But the Panthers had heard what everyone else was hearing and talking about. So they used it as motivation, like any good sports team would, and made it their mission to be NC's last boys soccer team to claim a state title.

The Panthers' 3-1 win over Crisfield stamped the season for the school and its community.

"I wanted to send those guys out with a lasting memory," NC coach Andrew Harrell said after the 1A final.

Well put, coach.

South Carroll's wrestling team possesses a good bit of swagger, from its two-time state champion coach down to a lineup stacked with studs. The Cavaliers rode a trio of superstars — senior Shane Conners and juniors Joey Thomas and Jamar Williams — to a 30-4 dual-meet record. After that it was county, regional, and state tournament titles.

Conners, Thomas, and Williams each won 2A-1A individual crowns, and the three wrestlers combined to go 160-1.

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(Westminster's Ryker Eckenbarger gave Carroll four state champs with his 4A-3A title.)

The Cavaliers needed all three of their finalists to come through in order to hold off Middletown and win a third consecutive team championship.

"Those were our studs, and they came through for us," Hamper said after the tournament.

Well put, coach.

The spring saw a familiar state champion in Manchester Valley's girls lacrosse team, who three-peat like SC wrestling by winning another 2A-1A crown. The Mavericks had a 27-game winning streak snapped in late March, then ended the season with 16 straight wins.

Carroll girls lacrosse stats guru Henry Griese recently sent me a list of the county's all-time win streaks; Man Valley has three of the top 11.

The Mavs have been led for four years by Lizzie Colson, who heads off to Maryland after she graduates in a few weeks with her share of accolades. Carroll's record for career goals is 307, set by former Terps star Katie Schwarzmann when she played at Century. Colson fell eight goals shy of becoming the new leader, but she joined Schwarzmann in the elusive 300-Goal Club with her final tally in MV's rout against Fallston in the state final (No. 300 on the nose).

The championship was a coronation for the Mavs, who will be melding with many of North Carroll's players next season and could be contending in 3A-2A very soon.

Then came a surprise of sorts — Westminster's softball team.

Not that the Owls weren't very good this spring, as their 11-5 regular-season record reflects. Two of those wins were against Liberty, which had Carroll's best record and made it to a regional final, and Man Valley, which won the CCAL county title game.

Westminster closed out the spring with five straight wins, all against relative unknowns in 3A, and claimed its first softball state crown since 2004. It almost went for naught against Huntingtown in the finals, but the Owls erased a 4-1 deficit and used a triple play to ignite their offense in the middle innings.

Westminster rallied to beat Linganore in the regional final, got past Northeast in the state semis after losing an early lead, and came from behind to beat a Huntingtown team that was 21-2 before the finals.

"It was one of the coolest feelings ever," said Amanda Lahner, who took over head coaching duties for the Owls before the playoffs when Ashley Moyer left on maternity leave. "To kind of see them go, 'OK, we've got this.' And then they did."

Well put, coach.

Every team begins its season with dreams of winning a state title, being one of the last squads still playing in November, March, or May. Clocks are set by their schedules, and people latch onto their feel-good stories for as long as they last.

It's what makes high school sports fun and exciting, and it's why we enjoy covering them as much as we do.

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