The county girls lacrosse title appears to be up for grabs this season as all four coaches believe they have a shot at claiming top Carroll honors.

Liberty, last year's defending champs, have to be considered a favorite to repeat, while North Carroll, boasting 16 returning players, may have a say in the matter.

South Carroll will rely on a veteran defense to stay in the hunt,while Westminster will look to a strong junior class to improve on last season's misfortunes.

Carroll teams also are looking to make some noise outside the county, as they enter their fourth season of lacrosse.

"As the years go on, our programs are getting stronger, and how we do outside the county should tell us a lot with all the experienced seniors now coming," North Carroll coach Stacey Abeles said.

On the college front, Western Maryland coach Kim Easterday is looking to improve on 1990's 7-6 record, which included a 1-3 conference mark.

"I'm hoping we can finish in the top three of our section (the Middle Atlantic Conference West)," Easterday said, "(Johns) Hopkins, Washington and Gettysburg should all be up there and I feel we canbe, too."

Here's a closer look at each team:

Liberty Lions

With a solid veteran cast returning from last year's county title team, fourth-year coach Courtney Vaughn is expecting even bigger and better things this season.

"Right now we're doing pretty well and area lot further along (at this time) than in years past," Vaughn said.

The Lions return eight varsity players from the 1990 squad -- including county scoring leader senior Rachel Horneman. Vaughn also is adding some new twists to the defense to help support the Lions' already potent offense.

"In the past years, the offense has always beenstronger to begin with while the defense comes along as the season goes on. This year, we are adding some things to the defense and the girls are adjusting well," she said.

Vaughn says depth and balancedscoring attack will be the team's strengths.

"We have a lot of strength on the bench with a lot of players with equal ability as some starters. We also have a lot of players who can score so you can't key on one scorer," she said.

North Carroll Panthers

Third-year coach Stacey Abeles has a handful of returning varsity players from last year's 6-6 team.

With seven seniors and nine juniors on the team, there's little room for newcomers to make the varsity roster.

"We have a lot of depth coming off the bench, senior leadership and some top scorers returning from last year," Abeles said.

Among those returning are senior attackers Vicki Williams and Bridget Harris --who finished second and third, respectively, in the county in scoring.

North Carroll has always had strong offensive teams, and this year Abeles is hoping the defense can step forward as well. Leading the way will be senior defenders Gina Perez and Robin Wagner.

"Gina and Robin have played together since their sophomore year. In the past, we've been very strong on attack, and I feel the defense can come around this year as well," she said.

Abeles shares the view that the county title is up for grabs this year and also is looking to do some damage outside the Carroll.

"It's a toss up in the county thisyear. Liberty has a lot of returning seniors and we should be tough,too. As the years go on, our (county) programs are getting stronger and what we do outside the county should tell a lot. I would like to get over .500 this season outside the county," she said.

South Carroll Cavaliers

In what could be called a rebuilding year for the Cavs, second-year coach Stacy Stem is pleased with the direction the team is headed.

The Cavaliers are losing five starters from last year's 7-5 team, but Stem is confident she has players who can pick up the slack.

"I'm really excited about the upcoming season and can'twait for it to start. It should definitely be a good year for us," she said.

Stem will rely on a strong, experienced defense led by seniors Dana Huggins and Erin Eaton.

"We're really strong on defense, and I think that will be the key. It's still early, but I feel we're a lot further along this year than we were last year at this time,"she said.

With around 50 girls trying out for this year's squad, up about 10 from a year ago, Stem believes the sport is catching on in Carroll.

"It's becoming a big hit down here and the girls are really getting into it. I think the summer recreation leagues have really helped and have seen a tremendous improvement with a lot of the girls playing in the summer and indoor leagues," she said.

Westminster Owls

Westminster is coming off a disappointing 2-10 year, but third-year coach Suzanne Davie hopes the Owls can turn it around with some help from player's from last year's 8-4 junior varsity team.

"We have a real good shot of improving. We have a strong junior class coming up, and the girls are playing real aggressive and determined," Davie said.

Add the fact that the Owls lost three county games last year by one goal and Davie has more reason for optimism.

"Our(1990) record doesn't indicate the way we played. The county is on an even keel, and whoever has the good day usually comes out on top that day," she said. "We had a pretty strong scoring effort last year and look improved (in preseason practice) on defense and in the goal cage this year."

One thing is for sure, the Owls will have a very young team. Losing eight players -- including six starters -- from last year's team, Davie is glad to see the 54 girls come out for the team this year.

Davie also has two new assistant coaches, Amanda Boden and Susan Piper, to work with the junior varsity squad.

Western Maryland

The Green Terrors come off a respectable 7-6 year with a solid mix of veterans and promising newcomers looking to turn some heads in the Middle Atlantic Conference West.

Coach Kim Easterday, in her 15th season at Western Maryland, is pleased with the team's progress.

"Everything is coming along real well and we should have a solid season. We have an entirely new attack to go with an experienced midfield and defense," Easterday said.

The young attackers may be the key to the Green Terrors success this season.

One concern Easterday has is the team's lack of depth, which would become a factor if injuries arise.

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