Parity is the byword for area lacrosse this year.
The formidable members of the Maryland Scholastic Association Conference play in a world of their own, but who will rule the MSA itself is another matter.
At least six of the eight teams have legitimate shots at the title. Yet, only two from each division will make the playoffs.
Defending champion Loyola will be tested in Division I by St. Mary's (led by attackman Rob Chomo) and dark horse Gilman. Division II, the strongest overall, shapes up as a race between Boys' Latin (and player of the year candidate, defenseman Stan Ross), Calvert Hall, St. Paul's and Severn.
Poly returns leading scorer Albert Tyler in its bid to unseat defending B Conference champion Park. John Carroll's defense is intact as the Patriots challenge BB Conference winner McDonogh and Friends.
MSA C champion Forest Park has seven starters, including league leading scorer and C. Markland Kelly Award-winning midfielder Obie Barnes Jr.
Defending state 4A champion Dulaney can weather the loss of Sean Heffernan and repeat against the survivor of a five-team battle in Anne Arundel. However, Dulaney may not be the best team back home in Baltimore County.
Class 2A Towson has what veteran coach Randy Dase is calling his best team in years. The Generals, who do not play Dulaney, figure to improve on last year's state quarter-final finish.
The best of Howard County should be Howard (with Division I-caliber defenseman Joe Wilson) and Mount Hebron (led by Virginia-bound midfielder Mike McQuaid).
In Harford County, defending state 1A-2A champion North Harford has lost its talented attack but returns virtually everything else. Carroll County, with a slight drop in overall talent, still has South Carroll and the county's third-leading scorer in attackman Kyle Blough.
1. LOYOLA: The Dons (11-2, 8-2) begin defense of their title minus 12 of last year's top 16 players. But this is a program that traditionally finds the ways and means, winning 86 of 100 games in coach Joe McFadden's seven seasons.
And, "It's not that we don't have returning players. We graduated 18, but 20 are back," McFadden said. His decision to retain a large number of players last year is reaping dividends as the units meld rapidly.
The defense lost two-time All-American Craig Ronald "but is actually a little stronger all around," McFadden said, with seniors Dan Radebaugh, Chris Dardozzi and Shaun McKenzie to back veteran Chris Ginter.
Injuries and illness have kept the midfield from truly stabilizing, but seniors Chris Farmer, Brian Riehl, Chris Rimorin and C. C. Langator will join veterans Mike Vaughan (11g, 6a) and Brad Hoag (11-2) to form what McFadden thinks will be two capable units.
Returning fifth attackman Mike Boyle is teamed with David Evans (13-4), Mike Gately and Billy Evans. Junior keeper Jason Johnson has looked capable of succeeding his graduated brother, Tim, as Loyola reloads.
2. BOYS' LATIN: The veteran Lakers (9-6, 4-6) are an early favorite to win Division II and then supplant Loyola as league champion. Coach Bob Shriver has players back at every position, with the team's strength evenly distributed among attack, midfield and defense.
Senior attackman Kevin Lutz (42-7), a tall, strong left-hander, is one of the league's best. Mark LaVerghetta, Kevin Bryan, Gene Lower and Sam Cefalu all saw plenty of playing time last year.
The midfield has graduated Derek Radebaugh and Trent Carter, but Chris McGhay and three other top performers return. The defense has a first-team All-Metro player in Ross -- an imposing 6-5 and 210 pounds -- Matt Ryan and five others who will all see playing time. Junior goalie Steve Bassford started better than 50 percent of last year's games.
"Experience and size are our biggest pluses," said Shriver, who is starting his 12th season. "It's one of our smallest in terms of numbers , but it has character and good balance."
3. CALVERT HALL: The Cardinals (6-6, 5-5) are loaded with veterans of up to three years prior varsity experience. Two, talented attackman Sean Burke returns to the program after a year at Towson Catholic.
The combination of Burke and faceoff artist Tony Nugent may give Calvert Hall an offense to complement one of the league's stingiest defenses.
"I'm more of a defense-oriented coach, and last year only one team [Loyola] scored in double figures on us," coach Mike Thomas said. "This year, I'm looking for more of a balance. We should be strong in faceoffs and have the ball more."
Nugent, who is the MSA's premier faceoff specialist now that Severn's Ryan Wade is at North Carolina, should deliver the ball with regularity to a four-deep attack of Burke -- the team's second-leading scorer two years ago -- Greg Bordes, Sean Ryan and Peter Hilgartner.
The midfield boasts two fourth-year starters in Nugent -- one of the MSA's three fastest players -- and Tom Welsch. Brian Smith, Joe Fischer and Larry Rohleder and JV grad Omar Black round out what Thomas calls two very strong units.
On defense, Darby Subotich is starting for the fourth straight year and Brian Yates for the third. Senior Mike Wilkens saw playing time last year, and junior Lloyd Shiflett was the best defender on the JV. Junior goalie Brian Lippa got the starting nod toward the end of last season.
4. ST. PAUL'S: The Crusaders (8-7, 4-6) have perhaps more firepower at attack than any other league team and most are underclassmen.
Tim Whiteley (26-34) and Rob Bouse (15-10) are only juniors, while Michael Wilson (23-1) is just a sophomore. "We're basically still young, but we have a lot of scoring potential. That attack is a strong unit," said coach Mitch Whiteley (third year, 17-12).
Senior Christian Fusting will help at attack, although "we're basically going to depend on our juniors to carry the load," Whiteley said, "but we depended on those same kids when they were freshmen and sophomores."
St. Paul's does have some senior experience in a midfield led by Kyle Durkee (16-14) -- who has been timed in 4.4 seconds for the 40 -- John Cougle (19-7) and Jeremy Bryant (6-1). Juniors Joe Gelbard, Russell Croft and Jeff Pacy will be counted on for help.
Junior Tom Keratzes has so far looked capable of succeeding graduated All-Metro goalie Scott Bacigalupo. Transplanted senior midfielder Michael Fronk, who bench-presses 260 pounds, heads the defense.
5. ST. MARY'S: The Saints (12-4, 8-2) lost their entire close defense and all but one starting attackman, but do have quality players anchoring the field units. Three are seniors who will accept major Division I scholarships.
Back are fourth-year attackman Chomo (Maryland), midfielder David Jones (Virginia) and goalie Chris Brown (North Carolina). "With three Division I-type guys, you have good leadership and ++ something to build around," said 12th-year coach Jim Moorhead (122-42).
Chomo (42-21) must shoulder more of the load now that three-year running mate Pat Ervin is at Loyola College. But close defense is the biggest question-mark. Senior Brad Stevens played some long-stick; otherwise, "it's a totally untested area," Moorhead said. Junior varsity grad Todd Harrison could help.
6. SEVERN: Those who think that the Admirals (18-5, 6-4) graduated all of their talent are welcome to think again, said interim head coach Peter Trau.
The defending MSA-A runners-up have beaten five teams in the Golden Gate Invitational Tournament in California. Leading the way were senior crease attackman Matt Long (56 goals last year), junior wing Jason Wade (35g) and sophomore Dudley Dixon (17g).
Kelly Award-winning midfielder Ryan Wade, the MSA's top faceoff man, is at North Carolina. But the Admirals have competent midfielders in Spencer Reckner, Milford Marchant, Jason Moran, Todd Muendel and Tim Donegan -- all double-figure goal scorers last year.
7. GILMAN: The Greyhounds (8-6, 4-6) hope to challenge behind a veteran close defense of seniors Josh Miller, Andrew Thut and Don Schline.
"Without a doubt, that's our strong point," said second-year head coach John Tucker, who will otherwise field a very young team. Tucker is projecting two freshmen, nine sophomores and eight juniors on a roster of 34.
"Also, we could be in for a long year because there is not a lot of offensive ability," Tucker said. Senior John Thomas and sophomore Bryan Smith are back at attack, but converted midfielder Charlie McMillin will be counted on for a lot of help.
There is decent experience at a midfield of seniors Chris Macon, Mike Alessi, Athan Sunderland, Alex Shawe, David Gilner and junior Hall Kesmodel.
8. DULANEY: The defending state 3A-4A champion Lions (12-0) have been ranked fourth nationally by one publication, but coach Gary Schreiber remains to be convinced.
"The offense is a major concern. Losing Sean Heffernan [41-47] really hurts, and we just don't have the depth we've had in the past," Schreiber said. "We'll have to rebuild."
Critical there will be senior attackmen Clark Ledbetter (25-10) and Damon Scordo (7-15), while the midfield has fine talent in junior Brad Berzins (28-14) and Chris Steer (17-20).
The defense is in very good shape. Senior Dan Evans is a fourth-year starter and senior Scott Mowbray has played for the past two. Craig Laferty has four years experience in goal.
9. TOWSON: Randy Dase has one of his best teams ever, and that is saying something about the Generals, a perennial top 10 team.
"This is as optimistic as I've ever been. It's scary. It's the chemistry -- a lot of great guys who are putting it together," said Dase, who won four state championships in the 1980s and made it to last year's 1A-2A quarterfinals before losing to Edgewood.
What Dase calls "a very potent attack that can cash in on the fast-break" is headed by seniors Chad Henry (the leading scorer last year), Mark Bresee and Dan Mason.
"The midfield is the quickest, strongest group I've had in the last six or seven years," said Dase, who is 130-18 in 12 years at Towson.
Senior faceoff specialist Alex Galiani and classmate David Brewer head a group that "has a lot of speed, quickness and the savvy to control play between the restraining lines," Dase said.
10. JOHN CARROLL: The defending MSA BB Conference finalists (12-4, 8-2) return an intact defense of Dave Stever, Pete Tapley and Brian O'Mailey to front goalie Stosh Rote.
The attack and midfield need work, however.
"We're weak there and will need game experience. I think we'll take our knocks from A Conference teams [Gilman, Boys' Latin and St. Mary's early. We're just too green," said coach Boo
Smith hopes that senior midfielder Zack Thornton will use his size (6-3, 215 pounds) and stickwork "to be a force." Senior Brian Yeager and sophomore Jeff Raymond must also contribute to the midfield.
The only starting attackman back is senior Brian Turk (25-13).
TEN TO WATCH: Arundel, Broadneck, Edgewood, Fallston, Howard, McDonogh, Mount Hebron, North County, North Harford, Severna Park.
Top 20 boys players
Player .. Yr. .. Pos. .. Team
Brad Berzins Jr. M Dulaney
Brian Bowman Sr. D Broadneck
Sean Burke Sr. A Calvert Hall
Rob Chomo Sr. A St. Mary's
Kyle Durkee Sr. M St. Paul's
David Evans Sr. A Loyola
Dan Evans Sr. D Dulaney
Brad Hoag Sr. M Loyola
David Jones Sr. M St. Mary's
Matt Long Sr. A Severn
Kevin Lutz Sr. A Boys' Latin
Stan Ross Sr. D Boys' Latin
Josh Miller Sr. D Gilman
Tim McGeeney Sr. G North County
Mike McQuaid Sr. M Mount Hebron
Tony Nugent Sr. M Calvert Hall
Mike Vaughan Sr. M Loyola
Jason Wade Jr. A Severn
Tim Whiteley Jr. A St. Paul's
Joe Wilson Sr. D Howard