First things first: Yes, the Severna Park girls lacrosse team lost an abundance of talent to graduation and injury.
And yes, the Falcons still are the team to beat in the 4A league, at least until someone comes along and proves otherwise.
The four-time defending 4A-3A state champions, who open their season this afternoon against Old Mill, appear vulnerable at first glance -- at the list of departed All-Metro selections.
Gone are attackers Betsy Elder (University of Maryland), Erika Mawhorr and Gina Roberts (both Loyola College) and Tami Riley, an all-purpose athlete who was expected to fill in at a variety of positions before reinjuring her knee last week.
Riley first went down during the basketball season after being hit from behind by an opposing player.
"I still don't know the extent of the injury," second-year coach Carin Peterson said. "She's a leader -- a very knowledgeable, smart player. It's quite a loss for Severna Park.
"Hopefully, we'll find someone to fillthe gap."
And there lies the key to the Falcons' season -- finding players to fill the gaps.
In past years, that hasn't been a problem. And Peterson doesn't necessarily believe it will become one thisspring, though she cannot discuss her team without mentioning its youth.
"We're very slim on seniors," she said, noting the presence of five holdovers from last season, including keeper Sonya Muhly, attacker Hillary Kuker and defender Tina Riley.
"The freshman class looks really good, and hopefully the seniors will bring experience. I'mcounting on them to hold (the younger Falcons) together."
Peterson expects Severna Park's greatest challenges in the county to come from Annapolis and Broadneck -- the state runner-up the past two seasons that offers a new coach in former assistant Mary Hart -- and private schools St. Mary's and Severn.
"And there are others," she said. "Teams play Severna Park differently. They can lose to a God-awful team, but when they play Severna Park -- it always happens this way and I hate it -- they get up for us."
Hart agrees, and she should know, being a Severna Park graduate and former teammate of Peterson's.
"Teams always use Severna Park as a motivator," she said. "They have an aura about them, and they've earned it. It's such a good program. When the girls step on the field, they automatically think they will win. It's like having an extra player."
Then she adds, "I think we're capable of beating them."
Hart's confidence isn't shattered by the graduation of Betsy Given (59 goals, 22 assists) -- The AnneArundel County Sun's Female Athlete of the Year -- and first-team All-County keeper Shannon Pastrana.
The two teams clash early this season: Tuesday at Broadneck.
"At least it won't be hanging over our heads all season," Hart said. "And it's at home, so we might have the edge."
Peterson said, "There are advantages to an early game and disadvantages. One, they could catch us off guard, or vice-versa. Two, our maturity might not come until later in the season.
"But I would imagine if we do well through the season, we'll meet Broadneck again."
Talk of the playoffs isn't confined to the two neighboringrivals. Over at Chesapeake, Coach Jim Buchan hopes a deep bench and 17 returning players will be the ticket to joining the county's upperechelon in 1991.
"This is the first time I've kept 25 kids on thesquad," he said. "It gives us a lot of depth, especially at attack and on defense. I'm hoping that out of all of these kids, we can fill in at the midfield. We're going to need our bench in order to beat some of the stronger teams, such as Severna Park, Southern, Broadneck and St. Mary's. We're looking to reach the level that those teams are at right now."
Sue Chittim also gives her Annapolis charges a realistic shot at the playoffs.
"Our league is going to be tough, but I still think we can make the playoffs. I'm expecting good things from (starting goalie) Carrie Lewis and (freshman attack) Christy Samaras," she said.
Arundel boasts a starting lineup that includes nine returning seniors -- including Emily Krause and Maria Mackey, who combined for 77 goals last year.
"I think our experience will be a big plus for us this year," first-year coach Susan Licameli said. "We've been moving a lot of people from defense to offense, trying new things. Everyone seems to be open-minded and willing to try anything forthe good of the team."
Meade has adapted its own KISS credo (KeepIt Simply Simple), as first-year coach Patti Sinnen attempts to guide her team through the rugged 4A league.
"When you look at the county as a whole, there are so many good teams, it looks like we won't be getting much of a breather during any part of the season. But I have a lot of confidence in our team. We'll take it a game at a time," she said.
Old Mill also has a new coach in Bruce Sponsler, who in five years has guided the girls soccer team to five regional finals and two state championships.
One advantage Sponsler has over the other first-year coaches is attacker Alison Zaetz, who has 127 career goals in three varsity seasons.
"We have to make sure she doesn't feel she must do it all herself," Sponsler said. "How many goals can one girl score? We need to take some of the pressure off Alison."
Little pressure exists at North County, which isn't expected to accomplish much in its inaugural season. Most of Andover's starters graduated last spring, and Coach Tom Taylor is looking to the future.
The county's other 4A school, Glen Burnie, does not have a girls lacrosse program.
South River coach James Shuck welcomes nine starters from last season, plus several contributors to last year's 9-3 junior varsity squad.
The best of the varsity returnees are All-County players Kristy Moltz (34 goals, 12 assists) and Peggy Fate(18, 9).
"We open against St. Mary's (tonight) and the girls are well-aware that (St. Mary's) would like an undefeated season," Schucksaid. "I'm not predicting anything, I just want to play well againstthe best teams. A good game against them would help us in our next five games until we play Severna Park (April 16)."
The regular-season finale against Southern (May 6) could determine whether Schuck andhis troops accomplish their goal of reaching the playoffs. But for Southern, last year's Class 2A-1A state runner-up, the best offense this year will be a solid defense.
Gone to graduation are Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year Kelly Archambo (74 goals) and All-County players Beth Chaney (36 goals) and Sam Hughes (34).
However, the entire defense -- including standouts Corey Paul and Rachel Gladwell -- returns, and fifth-year coach Linda Kilpatrick has made a few adjustments that should bolster the offense and help her squad again challenge for the state title.
Returning to the goalie position issenior Landra Phillips.
"We'll be relying a little more on defense for a while, but I'm confident that I have an offense that can score," said Kilpatrick,
The other league entry, Northeast, has nowhere to go but up after an 0-12 season. The Eagles return eight starters, including leading scorer Tammy Arnold.
Severn third-year coach Cathy Carper believes her team's overall balance will make it a force in the highly competitive Association of Independent Schools league.
"This is a very competitive league, and all the teams are on an equal basis," she said. "Bryn Mawr will be real tough, and you can't count out McDonogh or Seton Keough, either."
Spalding coach Mary Pat Bozel was encouraged by the number of players who arrived at tryouts but was humbled by the presence of only three seniors.
Bozel said that she would like to see the Cavaliers improve on last year's 6-8 record but that she isn't holding her breath.
St. Mary's coach Tina Lewnes will try to get by with a pair of keepers lacking varsity experience.