Severna Park coach Ed Ulrich best describes the equality that marks the 1991 boys lacrosse season when he says, "I think there are six orseven teams in the county that on any given night can beat anyone else."
Count his Falcons among them.
Winner of 13 games last season, Severna Park returns a bevy of talented athletes in its quest for a 4A-3A state championship.
The attack is particularly strong, where juniors Mike Crawford, Scott deGraffenreid and Bob Evans combined for 64 goals last year.
The midfield and defense are solid and deep, as well, prompting Ulrich to label his Falcons "a very well-balanced group."
They're not the only ones.
"The quality of teams in the county has moved up a notch, andin some cases, two or three notches. The teams that were weaker lastyear are stronger, and I don't think the stronger teams are weaker,"Ulrich said.
Annapolis, which bounced Severna Park from the stateplayoffs last season, remains formidable.
Gone from last year arestandouts Mike Greene and Craig Vlahos on attack and Craig Zimmerman and Tim Riggins on defense. But third-year coach Dan Hart won't receive much sympathy from his peers -- not with the likes of midfielder Christian Boone and attackman Chris Turner returning.
"Annapolis and Severna Park are the teams to beat. I look for one of them to get to the state finals," said Broadneck coach Clay White.
"Until someone knocks off Severna Park or Annapolis, they're the ones everybody will be chasing."
The Panthers' Hart said, "We realize that the 4Awill be very balanced. Everybody in the league is tough, and everyone is going to try and beat up on each other in order to get to the top."
White also believes North County is "a shoo-in" to make the playoffs in its inaugural season.
While Annapolis and Severna Park lost their starting goalies to graduation, the Knights have senior TimMcGeeney guarding the nets, and the job couldn't fall in more capable hands.
The All-County keeper led Andover to the 2A-1A state finals last season by allowing fewer than four goals a game.
McGeeney won't have to rely on his talent alone. Opposing attackers will have to bull their way past returning defensive starters Joe Ross and Karl Wick.
"Defense is definitely our strong point, but we don't want to be a one- or two-dimensional team," said North County coach Paul Shea, who coached 13 seasons at Andover. "We've got some guys who can score offensively and I think teams will have a hard time keying on any one person because the scoring will be spread out."
Shea expects to finish among the top teams in the county. Yet, even with a huge turnout and plenty of depth and talent to spare, success will come only as quickly as he and his assistants, Jon Appelt and Roger Lipp, can blend it together.
"We had some scrimmages that showed us exactly where we are -- and that wasn't as far along as we wanted to be," said Shea. "Annapolis has to be the front-runner, followed by Severna Park, Broadneck, Arundel and us. Unless we're ready every day, we canbe taken out."
Like most county coaches, Arundel's Clint Gosnell concedes that the 4A race will be a knockdown, drag-out affair.
"It should be very interesting. There's just so many teams that could do some damage. Severna Park has some excellent players, and North County will be right up there to make a challenge," he said.
The Wildcats are banking on a solid defensive unit.
If depth were all it took to win a championship, White could start clearing a spot in Broadneck's trophy case.
The sixth-year coach has an ample supply of personnel at every position, including All-County defenseman Brian Bowman.
Old Mill coach Bruce Lawton thinks his team is ready to challenge the league's elite, and few could argue after examining the Patriots' midfield and defense.
The 14-year coach also chooses Annapolis and Severna Park as the best in the 4A, "and I don't think you can count out Broadneck and Arundel."
"And now North County is moving in," he added. "They have good kids from last year at Andover, plus some from Brooklyn Park."
Senior leadership from defensemen Jim Quesney and Dave MacWillams will be key elements in determining Chesapeake's ability to join the league's upper level.
"Both of those guysare self-motivators, and they lead by example," said coach Bob Connor, who returns last year's leading scorer, Dean Coccia.
Meade faces an uphill struggle while trying to improve on last year's 4-10 mark.
"We may be young, but we're still ready to meet the challenge," said Mustangs coach Lou Norbeck.
Glen Burnie's fight to escape theleague cellar and improve on last year's lone victory is made more difficult by a lack of experience.
The Gophers, who were 1-13 last spring, will depend heavily on senior midfielder Andy Baldwin and a supporting cast dominated by underclassmen.
To prevent being left out of the 4A-3A playoffs again this season, South River will have to improve on last year's 8-4 record against a tougher schedule.
"Our defense is very inexperienced," said 14-year coach Greg Carroll, who lost six starting defensemen to graduation. "We play everyone in the county this year, so there are going to be a lot of tough teams on our schedule."
South River's strength begins from the midfield, where three veterans return. Senior middie Brian McElhenny and juniors Chris Messineo and Jake Cameron will have to keep the pressure off the defense during the early going.
By their final regular-season game against Southern, the Seahawks hope to have secureda playoff berth. If not, the Bulldogs could make it very tough for them.
"We scrimmaged South River early in the season and both teamslooked pretty good," said sixth-year Bulldogs coach Bill Schwarz, whose squad was 9-4 last year. "Southern has been working hard to make a name for itself in lacrosse. We've made it to the first round of the playoffs the last two years and we want to go further this year."
The Bulldogs will have to find out which player -- junior Mark Belote or sophomore Rob Barber -- will start in goal.
Seniors Steve Griner, last year's leading scorer, and Shawn Phipps head the attack and Scott Songer and Drew Derrick anchor the midfield.
No. 7 has been an unlucky number for Northeast for the past four years. In each ofthose seasons, the Eagles have finished 7-7 and missed the playoffs.
"A lot of the players are really motivated to improve on that this year, but it's going to be tough to do," said nine-year coach Kevin Buckley. "Southern consistently has great athletes and South River will have great firepower this year. We'll have to compete with them and possibly knock one of them off."
Buckley's team will be built from the defense forward, beginning with junior Steve Gorski, who returns to the goal after a year playing as a defenseman.