An experienced, well-balanced Anne Arundel Community College men's lacrosse team is beginning its season with the same kind of momentum it had toward the end of the 1990 campaign.

Last season, the Pioneers reached the finals of the Region XX tournament, where they lost toEssex Community College, 20-16, to finish with a 9-5 mark.

Unlike last year, however, the 3-0 Pioneers aren't waiting for the end of the season to hit their stride -- much to the pleasure of Coach Clayton "Buddy" Beardmore.

"Last year, we had good chemistry, but we seemed to get stronger as the season progressed," he said during a windy Tuesday afternoon practice. "This year, I think the biggest thing about our team is that we're well-balanced. The defense is a little bit ahead at the moment, but the offense will catch up."

Ifthe offense catches up with the defense, opposing defenses will be in for some long afternoons.

The Pioneers have reeled off 46 goals in their first three starts, avenging last year's defeat at the handsof the Navy "B" squad, 12-8, and using an 11-3 second-half outburst to subdue Kean (N.J.) College, 17-8. They defeated Villa Julie, 19-4,yesterday in a game shortened by bad weather.

"So far, we're right on schedule. We're already starting to jell as a team. We have somegood talent,and we're working very hard to try and learn each other's moves. We're also working on anticipating things quicker," Beardmore said.

"What we have is a bunch of very, very good young men who like to work very hard. I think one of our main problems is over-aggressiveness. So far this year, we've had more than our share of penalties. We had 19 alone against Kean. We need to cut down on the unnecessary amount of penalties," Beardmore said.

"But I don't want to cut down on their aggressiveness. We just have to back up a bit and play a little bit smarter. Because after all, this is a contact sport."

Ten returning sophomores form the nucleus of talent for the Pioneers this spring. Among them are first-team All-American defender JasonHoward (South River, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds) and second-team All-American attackman Jason Fairman (Severna Park). In 1990, Fairman finishedsecond on the team in scoring (25 goals, 20 assists) behind Mark Kasuda, now a member of the University of Delaware 11.

"I feel a lot of pressure has been stuck on me to step up in scoring since Mark left," said Fairman, who tallied four goals in the first three wins. "But I think we have the overall talent to make it to the nationals. I'dsay we're about 85 percent there. Another 15 or 20 percent and I think we'll be unstoppable. Once we get our chemistry going, I think we'll be good enough to go."

Second-year players Travis Katski (St. Mary's, five goals this season) and Archbishop Spalding alum Michael Pearce (two goals against Navy) anchor the midfield along with Michael Fox (South River), Gary Williams (Annapolis) and Todd Reynolds, who played for Anne Arundel two years ago.

Defensemen Scott Wicks (Andover, 6-2, 198), Tom Blue (Meade, 6-2, 205), reserve Robert Buffington (Northern, 6-2, 175) and goalie Brendan Lehane (South River) returnwith Howard to form an imposing defensive unit.

"Those four (Lehane, Blue, Wicks and Howard) are a little intimidating at the beginning of the season for some of these young freshmen coming in. They really beat 'em up pretty good during practice," said Beardmore.

Judging from their early-season performance, the beatings that the Anne Arundel freshmen have been taking on the practice field have paid dividends come game time. Attackman James Miller (Broadneck) registered a game-high three goals in the Navy win. Other first-year attackmen include John Barnett (St. Mary's) and Jamison Miller (Severna Park).

The Pioneers boast five freshman midfielders. Among them are Mike Greene, an All-County player at Annapolis. The 6-4, 205-pounder has posted nine assists and four goals.

"Mike's a big guy who has a prettygood shot," said Beardmore. "He just needs to learn our system a little bit better. But that's the way it is with all of the incoming freshmen. They all need to know the system, and everyone makes mistakes early on, but so far, they're doing a pretty good job of learning it."

Dan Griffin (Andover), Billy Haywood (Howard), Ryan Murphy (Broadneck), Craig Zimmerman (Annapolis) and Nick DiMauro (South River) make up the rest of the first-year midfielders. Joe Flynn (Severna Park) and Brett Willman (Southern) will split time between attack and themidfield.

Six-foot-3, 205-pounder Ron Rowe (transfer from West Virginia's Fairmont State) heads the list of freshman defensemen. Southern grads Erik Kauffman (6-3, 200) and Steven Songer (6-1, 205) add extra muscle to Anne Arundel's already-intimidating defensive unit. Victor Goeller (Northern) will be Lehane's understudy in the nets.

"The guys are full of energy and they all want to do well this year," said Beardmore. "The way it looks now, Essex is still the team to beat in the region. But with the right bounce of the ball, who knows what'll happen?

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