On the field, the Mt. Hebron boys lacrosse defense has stifled opponents. Off the field, the group is incredibly close friends.
That chemistry and connection has been a driving force in the unit’s success. Through 14 games, the Vikings are the best scoring defense in Howard County, allowing an average of 4.2 goals per game. The defense was a key to the Vikings securing the program’s first county championship since 2007.
Made up of five seniors, goalie Everett Armstead is the anchor and unquestioned leader of the group. He has a 75% save percentage on 215 shots, closing the regular season with four consecutive games with 13 or more saves. Beyond his saves, Armstead is most impactful with his communication. Always talking throughout the game, Armstead helps to guide his defenders on the correct slide packages.
“I’ve grown into that leadership role,” Armstead said. “I’ve been a captain of the team every year for lacrosse. On JV freshman year, I was a captain and on varsity junior and senior year I was. So, I think that being on the field and being that lead communicator, helps me be able to be a captain off the field and lead my team. I think that I have strong leadership skills and I know the game of lacrosse. So, I’m able to communicate on the field and give directions as best as I can.”
In front of Armstead, the senior trio of starting close defenders each bring their own unique skill sets. Senior Aaron Krafft transitioned to playing long pole last season.
After spending the prior two seasons on varsity as a defensive midfielder, coach Michael McCarthy approached Krafft about making a position change with the Vikings losing several impactful starters on defense. Krafft accepted the challenge, continuously working to improve his stick skills and his new responsibilities in the slide packages.
“It was different, it took time,” Krafft said. “Everett really helped furthermore by explaining the defensive slide packages. On adjacent slides instead of coming from up top and sloughing down, I would come from the bottom and help out at X. It’s a lot different playing at X. It’s hard to learn, but eventually, I got it and now our defense is looking great this year.”
Jack Kettering also transitioned to a newer defensive role playing closer to the goal. Both learning newer roles, Krafft and Kettering worked together diligently over the offseason with defensive coordinator Tommy Tittsworth. During those sessions, they worked on the slide packages, but also on opponents’ offensive tactics.
“We go into games knowing that we’re not going to let these guys score,” Kettering said. “We got each other’s backs because most of the time we’ll let up two or three goals. After that happens, we just lock in and know what they’re going to do and we’re able to stop them.”
While Armstead, Kettering and Krafft have plenty of lacrosse experience, Peyton Oh and Andrew Magdar are newer to the game. Both soccer players, Magdar began playing his freshman season, while Oh started as a sophomore.
For Oh, this season marks the first where he’s received extensive playing time. A little nervous in his first extended action, Oh has continued to hone all facets of his game. He knows he can rely on Armstead and his fellow close defenders.
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“The nerves are still there each game,” Oh said. “Every time I step on the field, I know I have people that have my back. I know if I mess up I have Aaron or Jack always there as my two, or Everett. Everett is probably the best goalie I’ve ever played with. So, I think having him in goal is what just gives me a lot more confidence in being able to play a lot more aggressively.”
Magdar’s role in the defense is more unique as he plays long-stick midfielder. He takes on a multitude of roles, playing on the man-down unit and as a wing on the faceoffs. Magdar’s soccer instincts have helped him on the lacrosse field, notably his foot speed and lateral quickness.
“Just in general I ran a lot in soccer, so that helps a lot,” Magdar said. “Defensively, I feel like I’m able to stay with people and I’m quick on my feet. It definitely has helped because I’ve been playing soccer since I was 6 years old. It definitely has helped me a lot just giving me experience seeing the field defensively and I can just read people, know which way they’re going.”
Despite all of their success, the defense is missing one key part in fellow senior Nick Payne. The veteran tore his ACL last August and missed this season rehabbing the injury. A vital part of the unit in seasons past, Payne is committed to play at Division I UMass Lowell next season.
Now in a win-or-go-home situation, the Vikings’ defensive unit looks to maintain that chemistry and togetherness as the challenge of each game grows.
“I think they never get rattled,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been fortunate to be a ball-dominant team. When they’ve been challenged they’ve answered the call every time, from our first game at South River when we were down three goals in the beginning of the fourth quarter and they locked them down for the rest of the game. They answered every challenge that they’ve had. To hold Glenelg to three goals and Century to three goals. You go up and down our schedule, I think it was only three of the teams we played are outside of the top 30 public schools in the state.
“They’ve faced some formidable offenses and they just make plays when they need to be played. They don’t give up runs, they get stops when we need to get stops. Man down unit is converting at 75% and they’re just a great cohesive group, which puts your mind at ease if we do struggle offensively. We know the backbone of our team is a great defense and that’s what makes you feel pretty good as a coach.”