For a change, the Severna Park girls lacrosse team wasn't the prohibitive favorite to win the Class 4A-3A state championship last season.

So much for predictions.

Though their overall winning streak ended at 57 games when Chesapeake posted a 17-16 overtime victory on April 19, the Falcons kept a more important string going -- a fifth straight 4A-3A state title.

Severna Park coach Carin Peterson appreciates how difficult it is tostay ahead of the pack, especially with the growing number of quality programs in the county giving chase.

"Chesapeake, Severna Park, Broadneck and Annapolis -- you pick any of those teams and they couldhave gone to the states last year," she said.

The same appears tobe true this spring. And with the expanded playoff field -- 16 teamswill qualify in the 4A-3A and 2A-1A classifications -- a few other squads can be thrown into the mix, as well.

What follows is a look at the '92 season, which began last week:

Public schools

If everyone thought Severna Park was young last year, wait until they get alook at the Falcons this spring.

Peterson has just two seniors --midfielder Nicki Cecere and defender Eva Roes -- and the keeper, junior Brandee Snyder, is new to the nets.

"She's the kind you can mold into just about anything," Peterson said of Snyder, who replaces three-year starter Sonya Muhly.

When asked if the influx of youngerplayers concerns her, Peterson said, "It does and it doesn't. They hold their own fate. I'm happy with the talent."

Among the top returnees are attacker Liz Warfield, midfielders Erin Wylde, Nicki Cecere, Stephanie Roberts and Amy Carnaggio, and defender Tracy McGarry.

Broadneck returns its own array of talent, but unlike Severna Park, it also boasts plenty of upperclassmen. The midfield includes one of the county's better players in senior Becca Fink, and the defense sports seniors Michelle Meyer, Liz Piazza, Lisa Pastrana, Dawn Frederickand keepers Paige Bowman and Wendy Baxter.

Frederick is back after sitting out last season with a knee injury.

"There's no one staron our team. We've got some great individual players, but it's the team that makes them so good. We can score all over the place," said first-year coach Leeann Shuck.

Shuck knows about star players, having been one herself. She helped Broadneck to the '87 Class A state title, and was named co-Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year withteammate Laura Elsey, who now serves as one of Shuck's assistants. Both attackers scored 154 points that season to lead the county.

Chesapeake fielded a couple of the county's leading scorers last season, including Diane McBee, who had 74 goals and 17 assists and was named Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year. But she's gone, as is midfielder Julie Smith (51, 11), defender Sherri Malloy and keeper Michele Julian -- all first-team All-County selections who led Chesapeake to a school-record 14 wins and a spot in the 4A-3A finals.

Amongthe returning Cougars is senior Natalie Buritsch (18, seven), who isbeing moved from midfield to attack. The same goes for junior DenisePerrone.

Senior Michele Reese gets the nod in goal, and Coach JimBuchan calls her "perhaps the best athlete we've ever had as a goalie."

The sixth-year coach also said the Cougars should be "strong on the defensive end" with seniors Kara Smith and Cindy Bumgarner and juniors Nicole Merzendorf, Jen Light and Amy Cunningham.

Annapolisappears strong everywhere, with 12 players returning to the varsity.

Among the veterans are senior attackers Cory Harmon (38 goals, 10assists) and Ali Nadich.

"The good thing about our team is that we have a lot of scorers. There's a lot of firepower between Harmon, Nadich, and (sophomore attacker) Cristi Samaras," said third-year coach Sue Chittim.

The Panthers' defense isn't too shabby, either, with senior goalie Carrie Lewis, senior Emily Chones and junior Cory Samaras.

"The three of them together may be the best in the county," Chittim said.

Old Mill is smarting a bit from the loss of prolificscorer Alison Zaetz, but all is not lost.

Zaetz netted 185 goals in four varsity seasons, including 58 last spring, but she wasn't theonly threat. The Patriots return sophomore attacker Michelle Salmon (52 goals) and senior midfielder Suzanne Martin (10), and with seniorErin Kennedy (188 saves) back in goal, coach Bruce Sponsler is understandably upbeat.

"We've got varsity experience right down the middle of the field, which is what you need," he said. "Some other teamsmight be stronger, but we're not weak."

Sponsler is equally happyabout the 58-player turnout -- "enough for three full teams," he said. "The interest is there."

There's plenty of interest at North County, but the talent level has dropped considerably and second-year coach Tom Taylor must rebuild.

He lost 10 starters, including first-team All-County attacker Stephanie Meyer (70 goals, 21 assists). "We're basically an all-new team, starting all over," he said.

Seniorattacker Lizzie Elza scored all four of the Knights' goals in a 16-4loss to South River last Friday. She is joined up front by senior Stacey Robinette and juniors Jen McGuire and Becky Webb.

"We have some good athletes, but this is a team of the future," Taylor said.

The future is now at Southern, which returns nine starters and easilyshould surpass last year's 4-8 record. It was the first losing season in coach Linda Kilpatrick's six years. She had won three state titles in four appearances.

"They're determined to get back to the caliber of lacrosse that people expect from us," said Kilpatrick, whose team won its first two games. "I think they'll be back."

She has good reason to believe that, thanks to players like senior attackers Talaya Barnett (28 goals, four assists) and Jennie Young (22, six), sophomore attacker Kari Sherbert (10, three) and senior midfielder LizaBigger (28 goals).

Kilpatrick has moved senior Rachel Gladwell from midfield to attack, calling it "one of the smartest moves I could make to spread out the scoring."

Junior Crystal Bennett, a startermidway through last year, returns to the goal. Kilpatrick expects her to mature behind a veteran defense of Corey Paul, Liz Pluebell and Kim Smith.

South River's defense centers on senior keeper Cher Coleman, while the offense revolves around senior attacker Kristy Moltz (39 goals, 16 assists) and senior midfielder Peggy Schreiber (18, 15).

"Schreiber controls the entire midfield and she'll be a big factor this year," said first-year Seahawks coach Paula Tobin. "The leadership is going to have to come from my three tri-captains, (senior attacker Heather) Riley, Moltz and Coleman."

Arundel lost its two leading scorers, Emily Krause and Maria Mackey, who moved on to Division I schools Princeton and Loyola, respectively.

One key returnee is senior attacker Patti Bartosiewicz, who had 28 goals last season and six in a 16-13 loss to Southern on Friday.

At Meade, senior Vonnita Pinkett is doubtful for the season after reconstructive knee surgery, but rookie coach Del Hughes refuses to throw in the towel.

"We may take our lumps, but I think the girls will continue to work hard for the rest of the season," said Hughes, whose team lost to St. Mary's, 19-2, last Friday.

Sophomore Connie Fink, who had 19 saves against the Saints, will try to keep Meade in as many games as possible.

Northeast would like to win some games after going 0-12 last season. The Eagles return six starters -- two each from the attack, midfield and defense.

"Our goal is to reach .500. If I do that, I'll be happy," said second-year coach Bob Manz. "We've got a difficult schedule, but the attitude is great and I expect the skill level to continue to improve."

Private schools

St. Mary's appears to be thefront-runner among the county's private schools, but Severn can't befar behind with senior Anne Schorreck back at attack. Schorreck had 35 goals and 10 assists last season.

Severn fourth-year coach Cathy Carper added senior Sarah Franey to the varsity. Franey scored 55 goals on the junior varsity last spring.

Other capable scorers include senior attackers Cristina Brill and Jacqui McDermott and juniors Brenna Ryan and Robin Quinton.

Senior co-captain Katie Burrows anchors the defense and her greatest task will be protecting freshman keeper Stephanie Tuerk.

"Our defense is new, but I have confidence in them and I think they can pull it off," Carper said.

St. Mary's should be tough with senior Melissa Reynolds back in the nets. She split time last season with Amy Pardo and finished with a .578 save percentage.

Reynolds will work behind senior defenders Robin Honan, Lindsey Moreland, Kristine Manning and Virginia Frisch.

The Saints return a veteran attack that includes Kirsten Bowman (30 goals, nine assists), Randall Goldsborough (25, six) and Julie Dodd (22, six).

The county's leading returning scorer, senior attacker Marie Jamison(58 goals, six assists), is a sound reason Archbishop Spalding should improve on last year's 4-14 record.

"She's matured quite a bit this year and she's one of our captains," said Coach Mary Pat Bozel. "A lot of the younger kids look up to her and she's an inspiration. With all the goals she scored last year, you would think she was a ballhog, but that wasn't the case at all. She's one of the fastest girlsI've seen and she creates opportunities for herself."

Jamison's supporting cast includes senior attackers Jen Weihs and Jen Davis and junior attacker Alice Matos. Davis and Matos missed most of last season with knee injuries.

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