The Raiders went 4-8 last year, including 2-5 in the county, which was a modest improvement from the 1991 season. This spring, Atholton could turn the corner into contention.
First of all, the entire starting defensive unit is back from a team that lost its last four games by a total of five goals. Seniors David Koch and Josh Harold and junior Adam Shaivitz have returned. Senior goalie Alex Hill, a backup last year, moves into a starting role.
"It's a good group of guys, and I think they're going to accept the challenge that's in front of them," coach Wendell Thomas said.
What's in front of them is an offense that struggled all last spring.
The Raiders are looking for added scoring from a midfield unit that should be better. Junior Matt Treese, Atholton's leading scorer among middies last year, is back. "He's going to be a dominant player for us," Thomas said.
Treese and senior Charles Fuller give the Raiders a good combination of speed and experience. Junior Chris Buscher moves up from the junior varsity, where he was a solid faceoff man last year.
The second midfield unit is untested. Junior Sean David, sophomore Seth Lyons and first-year senior Jeff May hope to give Atholton the depth it lacked at that position last year.
On the attack, the Raiders figure to get a huge boost from sophomore Billy Carr, a transfer from St. Paul's, which went undefeated and finished No. 1 last year. Carr is one of the most skilled players on the team. Senior Brett Griffith and junior Mike Marcyz -- up from the junior varsity -- round out the starting attack. Griffith played a little last year.
The Eagles broke through after years of frustration last spring to finish second in the county with a 6-1 record (12-3 overall) and make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. This year, coach Mike Siegert, who normally downplays his team's chances, hardly can contain his excitement. The Eagles have good speed, great skills and a winning attitude.
"We've got a great blend of young guys and leaders. Once in a while, you get a group who lives and breathes lacrosse. That's these guys," Siegert said. "I think we've got a chance to take it a step further this year."
The Eagles will be led by senior midfielder Werner Krueger, an all-county player last year who is headed to Johns Hopkins. He led the team in ground balls, scored a team-high 32 goals and dished out 15 assists, second on the team.
"This kid [Krueger] is going to be an All-American. He does it all," Siegert said. "We've needed him to fulfill a certain role before. This year, we're counting on him to carry the load offensively."
Senior midfielders Greg Matschat (seven goals) and Brian Rhodes (11 goals, eight assists) should provide good complements to Krueger, and Rhodes is a proven faceoff man. (( The Eagles also will look for midfield help from a junior varsity that went 12-0 last year. Sophomores Joe Lowrance, Dave Peek and Mike Shackleford -- up from the JV -- will combine with returning senior Jeremy Odelius to fill out the second midfield unit.
Centennial's attack should be potent, despite its youth. Sophomores Rob Wilbur and Rob Hauff are back, Hauff after scoring 10 goals and adding six assists last year. Sophomores Tony Harding, Dave Saunders and junior Brian Rowe are up from the junior varsity.
Defense is where the Eagles took the biggest hit at graduation, and defense will be the Eagles' question mark. Senior goalie Will Hong is back. He had 132 saves, a .650 save percentage, and he should provide stability. But the season probably will come down to how smoothly sophomores Matt Rainwater, Steve Puckett and Chris Cochran and seniors Burke Hare and Doug Golden mature on defense. Only Rainwater started last year.
The Gladiators, who became one of the county's more competitive teams two years ago, should be able to shake off some key graduation losses and stay in the thick of the county title race. Glenelg went 8-5 last year, 4-3 in the county.
"On paper, it looks like we lost a whole lot, but there's every indication that we should do well," coach Rick Kincaid said. "Our team speed on defense is much better than last year. We're definitely going to surprise some people. This team has great chemistry."
Senior midfielder Matt DeMontaigne will anchor the team. He was a fine faceoff man last year, when he scored 19 goals and had 10 assists. The Gladiators also are looking for more scoring punch out of senior midfielder Jason Caulder (nine goals, five assists). Senior Jamey Arnsmeyer also will start. Juniors Jeff and Chris Cordisco give the Gladiators excellent speed on the second unit.
ZTC Kincaid is hoping for big seasons from senior attackmen Arvak Marshall and Brent Grabill, each of whom played sparingly last year. Junior attackman Jeremy Smith, 6 feet 6, 260 pounds, should set some bruising screens.
Defensively, the Gladiators will miss graduated goalie Craig Flurry, but senior Andy Marshall and junior Toby Heusser -- up from the junior varsity -- are fighting for the starting job. Kincaid thinks the depth at that position will be as strong as last year.
On defense, senior Greg Soule returns to start, while seniors Chris Frederick and Jason Neale and junior Brandon Mitchell are vying for the other two starting roles. Mitchell's stickwork has been very impressive. Glenelg also is counting on a big contribution from Frederick, whose season ended early last year because of mononucleosis.
The Bears lost six starters from last season's 10-4 team that went 5-2 against the county and lost in the second round of the regional playoffs. That hasn't dampened the optimism of ninth-year coach Bill Smith one bit.
"I think we're quite a bit better than we were last year," Smith said. "I think we stack up physically, we're very strong defensively, and at midfield we have two strong lineups, unlike last year."
Hammond's key question mark looms on attack, where Keith Chance has graduated after sparking the Bears with an all-county season. Can junior Brent Ormiston, used sparingly, produce in a starting role? Can senior Ryan Sheplee do the same after missing most of last season with a broken ankle? And can returning starting senior Greg Seward become an offensive force?
While the Bears learn the answer to those questions, Smith will depend on senior midfielder Tommy Lea to show the way. Lea, headed for Towson State on a lacrosse scholarship, might be the best player in the county. An all-county performer last spring, Lea led the team with 32 assists and was second behind Chance with 40 goals.
"I just stand there in amazement sometimes watching him," Smith said. "He's our best faceoff guy, our best defensive middie and our go-to guy on offense. I think he'll improve in both categories [goals and assists]. I don't see too many people being able to stop him."
Junior Mike Sargent, who scored the game-winning goal in the playoffs against Liberty last year, will start at another midfield position. And junior Andrew Gregory, a part-time player last year, assumes another starting position. Smith thinks he is one of Hammond's more improved players. Smith is also excited about having sophomore Mike Matthews -- a terrific athlete -- out to lead the second midfield unit.
Defensively, seniors Pat Brennan and Brian Triantaffilos return to lead a unit that lost three starters to graduation. Smith's most intriguing decision may be at goalie, where senior Hunter Hawes and freshman Brian Lea -- Tommy's brother -- are fighting for the position vacated by the graduated Brian Therrin. Smith sees Lea as potentially the best goalie the county has ever had.
The Lions return only four starters from last season's 4-8 team that won only two county games, and the familiar problems persist.
Howard lacks skills, quickness and depth. Coach Dan Ross, who resorted to gimmicks like the four-corners stall offense and a second goalie to keep opponents off balance last year, may be forced to reach into his bag of tricks again.
"We just don't have enough athletes, and we don't have great field sense," Ross said. "Right now, we're working on basics. It doesn't do any good to talk about X's and O's if you can't catch and throw. We won't forfeit any games. We will show up."
Of the four returning starters, junior midfielder Eddie O is the most talented. He might turn into one of the county's better players. Junior midfielder Seth Eldridge is also back. Junior defenseman Don Merchant and junior attackman Karl Krantz also return.
All four attended at least one lacrosse camp in the off-season, but what good will that do with so many untested players around them?
Senior Brad Stubbs, a first-year player, brings raw athletic ability his position. Senior goalie Mike Abron is unproven. The same goes for senior midfielders Rob Platter and Chris Boyer and junior attackmen Joe Barkin and Sean Hensley.
Two years ago, the Lions won the county championship and made it to the state finals. Two years later, the Lions are looking at another frustrating spring.