The Gamber I girls beat Hereford 17-6 on May 21 in its opening game of the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association's (MYLA) Junior B Division Playoffs.
The Gamber eighth-graders won their opening playoff game last year too, but were then stopped. Two years ago, they lost in the opening round.
Team coach Jen Hawks hopes it’s different this year.
Hawks, who sits on the Board of Directors of Gamber-Smallwood Optimist Lacrosse, has coached some of these girls since they were five or six and others on the team for around five years. Now they are playing their final year of youth lacrosse, and she hopes they can make a run at the Junior B eighth grade postseason title or maybe even win it.
She had almost all of her players back from last year's first place, 10-1 team when practice began. The few new ones were quickly learning the ropes from the coaches and from their new teammates. Hawks says she felt upbeat about the upcoming season.
The coach’s optimism was quickly affirmed. Her girls opened on April 8 with a 15-1 blowout of Edgemere/Sparrows Point I. The following week, Gamber topped Perry Hall I 13-7.
That six-goal margin was the closest anyone would come to Gamber for the next five games.
Hawks said she had expected her girls to do well, but she was pleasantly surprised at just how well they were doing. She attributed their successes to just about everything.
“We excelled in defense and in our goalkeeping,” she said. “Some of our defenders had played together for a couple of years, but a couple of them were brand new to the team.”
That mixture of old and new was good enough to hold opponents to 52 goals in ten games, the second-lowest number in MYLA’s 15-team Junior B Division.
They were also adept at scoring goals and would lead the league with 153 during the regular season.
“We do well on transition, and we are very team oriented,” Hawks said. “The players take the opportunity to pass to their teammates as opposed to just shooting.”
Gamber had jumped off to a 7-0 record when it ran up against South Carroll on May 5. South Carroll, which would finish in third place with a 9-2 record, was no pushover.
“They were a fast team, and I knew we would have to play the game well to beat them,” Hawks said. “It was tied at times, although we led most of the way.”
With less than two minutes remaining, Gamber was ahead 12-9. But it was then penalized and had to play shorthanded.
“They scored two goals, but then we got possession with about 45 seconds left, and we kept it and won 12-11,” the coach added. “It was a tough game.’’
The final two games on the regular season schedule weren’t so tough — Gamber won them both 18-4.
As good as the team was in the beginning of the season, Hawks believes it actually improved in certain areas as the year went on.
“The players improved in transition and in getting open,” Hawks said. “They utilized the whole field and made good decisions before passing. They didn’t hold on to the ball too long. The defenders marked their girls well and watched where the ball was going.”
The girls continued to play well in their playoff game at Hereford.
“We scored a couple of goals early and stayed ahead,” Hawks said. “The offense played well, and the defense played well. The whole team played very well.”
Sometime this coming week, Gamber plays its second-round playoff game against Cobra I from Howard County. That one will also be no pushover, although Gamber beat that squad 14-7 in the regular season. Cobra finished fourth with an 8-3 record. It scored 145 goals, third highest in the league.
And lurking in the background is Bel Air I which finished second with a 10-1 record. Its only loss was a 4-3 decision to Loch Raven/Parkville in April. Gamber didn’t play that Harford County squad in the regular season but could soon see it.
Perhaps the biggest worry for Hawks is missing key players in the playoffs, something that has happened to her team before. Soccer and field hockey programs hold tryouts at this time of the year, and this has claimed some of her players in the past.
However, the coach remains cautiously confident, particularly if she has her whole squad available to her.
“If they continue to play as a team, I think they have the opportunity to finish the season well. But to finish well, we’ll have to play well,” she said.
Given what’s happened to date, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against them.