While North County's boys lacrosse team tries to win Coach Paul Shea's first state title, two county teams that defeated the Knights will remain at home.
The third-seeded Knights (10-5) take the field against top-seeded Franklin in tonight's Class 4A-3A Region II championship game. Some observers will be wondering how they got this far, while veteran-laden teams like Severna Park and Annapolis failed to make the Region IV championship game.
The Knights, who edged second-seeded Catonsville, 11-10, in Saturday's semifinal, returned just four starters, including one senior, from last year's 15-2 state runner-up squad.
Annapolis, which beat North County, 7-5, in the regular season, had several veterans back from an 11-4 state semifinalist team, including the county's top scorer, Dan Flynn. But this year's 6-8 version failed to reach the playoffs.
Severna Park was regarded as the county's top public school team entering the season and hammered North County, 16-6. Yet the Falcons (15-2) were eliminated, 10-9, in Saturday's Class Region IV semifinal.
"Coaching. That's the answer to all your questions," said North County junior midfielder Shawn Moyer, a tri-captain with junior Greg Sabo and senior Andy Ross.
Shea replaced Jon Appelt as Andover's head coach in 1977, posting a 142-73 record since then, including four wins each in state final and state semifinal appearances. His clubs have missed the playoffs just four times.
Assisted by Appelt since 1979, Shea has a 40-10 record over the last three years, including Andover's 1990 Class 2A-1A runner-up finish to North Harford. Moyer, Sabo, Ross and junior Andy Mocarsky were members of that team.
"Our tradition at this school is win -- and win everything," said Sabo. "Our season has never ended before March 16th since I've been here. We take pride in the fact that we're always one of the last teams practicing toward the end of the season."
L The Knights are undaunted when compared to last year's team.
Led by All-County defender Karl Wick and goalie Tim McGeeney, the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1991 Player of the Year, last year's Knights yielded an average of 3.2 goals per game before the 13-4 state championship loss to six-time champ Dulaney. Shea labeled the Knights "a peck-away offense" last year, with top-scorer Bob Wolfe (30 goals, 12 assists), James Meyer (23, six) and Troy Fulwiler (19, five).
This year's Knights aren't quite as stingy defensively, but they're more prolific on offense. After combining for just over 50 goals and 35 assists last year, Mocarsky (28 goals, 32 assists), Sabo (28, 31), Ross (27, 22) and Moyer (six, 19) have prospered.
Freshman Ian Stevenson (25, four) has been a pleasant surprise, as has the defense of junior Vinnie Elliot (a sometime starter a year ago), senior Brian Aguayo (a first-year player) and freshman Chris Lamy. Senior keeper Matt Fundakowski has done a fine job replacing McGeeney, who just completed his freshman year as Loyola College's starting goalie.
"I knew Matt had potential, but I figured our defense would be weaker," said Ross, one of three seniors on the squad. "Vinnie holds things together, and Aguayo is an enforcer back there."
Lamy and Stevenson brought experience from their 7-3 Andover Apaches' recreation league squad.
"The freshmen have fit in very well, along with the seven sophomores who are getting playing time," said Shea. "I attribute that to our captains, who have tasted success and know what it's like to be there. They've sort of spoon-fed the younger players, letting them get emotional at times but helping them to keep everything on an even keel."
After losing to the Falcons, North County -- then 1-3 -- was written off by many observers.
The Knights, however, reeled off seven straight victories, including wins over Class 2A-1A contender Northeast, 10-1, and Meade, 13-8 -- two teams that later defeated Annapolis. Other than Broadneck (14 goals) and Severna Park (10), no other county team has reached double-figure scoring against Northeast's premier keeper, Steve Gorski.
"Our attack is more balanced than ever," said Shea. "It's been very unselfish."
North County dropped two of its last three games against Class 4A-3A Region IV favorite Broadneck, ranked No. 9 in the area, and Class 2A-1A contender Southern.
But by reaching the regional championship game, the Knights have surpassed most expectations.
Most, except their own.
"We came into this season knowing we'd be back," said Sabo. "When people said we wouldn't, it just made us play harder."
Said Moyer, "It doesn't matter who we play, Mr. Shea and Mr. Appelt make us into winners."