Fallston has dominated Harford County girls lacrosse for th past five years, but this year, the Cougars are rebuilding. It might be time for someone else to rise to the top.
C. Milton Wright and Joppatowne return a lot of strength and either could give the Cougars a run for the title.
Still, the Cougars have a habit of reloading quickly, so no one is counting them out just yet.
"No one can beat Fallston," said C. Milton Wright coach Kathy Breymaier. "They always have a lot of talent. But my kids, that's all they want to do. I have to get them to take each game at a time. Last year, my team was very young and inexperienced. I was proud of how they came through the season. This year, we could give Fallston a run for their money."
So could Joppatowne, which tied the Mustangs for second place in the county last year. With a strong mix of talented seniors and sophomores, the Mariners travel to meet the five-time defending county champs on Tuesday. "That will be our big test," said Joppatowne coach Pam Reich, whose squad also plays Fallston a second time.
Another county team to watch is John Carroll, which moves into the Association of Independent Schools A Division. Although the competition is much tougher, the two-time B Division champs return enough talent to give the A teams a battle.
Only three starters return to a team that finished fourth in the county last year.
The Eagles should be strongest down the middle with their returning starters, senior Sarah Loper at third home, junior Becky Mortus at center and senior Katie Magee at cover point. But there are so many holes to fill that this squad will have a tough time matching last year's 6-7 record.
"It's definitely a rebuilding year," said coach Ken Zorbach. "We only have one really good person on defense and our offense is full of people who have just filled in before. It's going to be a matter of how well they start to play together.
Three other returnees, senior attacker Cathy LaRuffa, junior midfielder Tanya Wetherall and junior defender Jen Burch have a jump on the competition coming up from JV and should win starting assignments.
A. J. Poper, a junior transfer from Edgewood, also could find a starting spot on defense. Senior Jeanne Zdon, junior Michele Chevannes and sophomores Mary Ishibashi and Jennifer Holliday also will see action on defense.
Juniors Loretta Anderson, Shannon Edie and Maria Nasidka and sophomore Melissa Bender will vie for time on attack.
After a 3-9 season, the Bobcats return most of their strength on offense. But they will have to score a lot of goals to make up for a rebuilding defense if they plan to improve on that record.
All-County attacker Lisa Thomas leads the returnees. A strong all-around player who led the team with 31 goals and 18 assists, Thomas could play anywhere down low or at midfield.
Two other seniors, Cathy Adams and Jen Emig, return to starting spots on attack while seniors Jen Jankowski and Renee Kuhn and juniors Amy Rafalski and Kelly Christ also should see action.
Senior Heather Lloyd is the lone returnee to the defense, but her twin, Melissa, also plays strong defense as the only returnee other than Thomas in the midfield.
"Our midfield is where we need to do some work," said coach CarolBarker. "That was our biggest weakness last year. We stopped the shots or intercepted the ball in the defense, but we couldn't seem to make the connections to get the ball up field to the offensive end."
Defensively, seniors Katie Levett, Kristen Romano and Laura Casey as well as junior Melissa Scharoun will see plenty of playing time.
C. Milton Wright
With nine starters back, the Mustangs return more experience than anyone else in the county.
If Breymaier can turn some of those talented athletes into aggressive, smart shooters, the Mustangs will be in the hunt for the county championship.
"Last year, we looked good running down the field, but all we did was shoot at the goalie. We have to place the ball," said Breymaier. "We need to get people I know can score and we haven't had that in a few years."
Topping Breymaier's list for promising scorers are seniors Amanda McCulloch and Julie Jakum. McCulloch, who can play anywhere, was a catalyst for the offense last year. Breymaier often had McCulloch mark a team's top scoring threat. But if her team couldn't get its offense working, Breymaier could count on McCulloch for a few goals.
Jakum, also a strong defender at center, will get more into the offense this year. Returning seniors Kim Dribnack and Sara Pokrywka also could score more.
Defensively, the Mustangs appear solid with All-County picks McCulloch and senior defense wing Debbie Keiser back. Senior Julie Smith and juniors Kristin Schrader and Willow Waldrop also return along with goalkeeper Carmen Kinard. Sophomore Kim Kalista will battle Kinard for the starting spot in the nets.
The Rams have won just two games the past two years, but first-year coach Michelle McGinley expects to do better.
"I think a lot of people consider Edgewood a big-time cakewalk," said McGinley, "but we're not going to go down without a fight anymore. I'm not saying we're going to win it, but if and when we lose, it's not going to be a blowout."
Six starters return and they are spread out around the field. McGinley said she has the new, young talent to fill in the holes.
Defensively, junior Lisa Fotia is back at third man while junior April Wallace will run at defense wing. Also back is goalkeeper Becky Hoover, who turned in a memorable 24-save effort during the Rams' only victory last season, a surprising 5-4 upset of C. Milton Wright.
Senior returnee Karin Blackburn breaks into the starting roster at point while senior cover point Nicole Chmura and juniors Kim Gowetski, Angela Russo and Alison Byrnes could earn starting spots.
Senior Shawn Pupa and junior Christine Knopp return to their starting spots at attack wing while senior Melanie Herbert is back at a home position. Juniors Amy Muhl and Angie Eichensehr and sophomore Jessica Lancaster also could start on attack. Sophomore Ronilyn Kirby will start at center.
McGinley, a former Edgewood assistant coach, expects the Rams to be strong on attack, but she's a little worried about the crease defense, where the team is most inexperienced.
Everyone is taking aim at Fallston this year, because this could be the year the Cougars lack the experience to win the county title.
Only four starters return, and only four others have varsity experience.
"It's going to be an off year," said coach Nancy Ferguson. "There's a lot of potential here, but this is my weakest returning group. We have a good group of young kids, but they're real
young in terms of the game. Before, we always had strong older kids to carry them through."
Heading the returnees is versatile senior Cindy Jenkins, who led the county in scoring last year with 63 goals and 21 assists. An All-County pick on attack, Jenkins can play anywhere on the field, but the Cougars will need her scoring ability more than ever with such a young attack.
Also back is senior attacker Jenny Haslbeck, who contributed almost 30 goals last season. On defense, seniors Jenny Clark and Lisa Taylor are the only returning starters.
Senior Kathleen Turk, junior Daina Burton and sophomores Krissy Battenfeld and Julie Haire played reserve roles last year and should step into starting positions.
The graduation of All-Metro goalkeeper Tammy Kloiber left Ferguson with a huge hole to fill.
Pam Reich's squad is one to watch this spring. In addition to some solid upper-class talent, the Mariners also have a promising sophomore class.
Four of those sophomores already have a year of varsity experience -- attacker Jackie Bass, midfielder Lisa Maly, defender Natalie Majerus and goalkeeper Karen Lemley. Four more move up from JV -- midfielders Jen Aquia, Angel Miller and Eva Pierorazio and defender Emily Francis.
"The sophomores are outstanding," said Reich. "They're fast, they're competitive and they're smart. They've got it all."
The upperclassmen aren't bad either, including four starting seniors. Crystal Carr returns on defense while Jen Robbins, Patty Whitehead and Shannon Pardew are back on attack. Senior reserve Chrissy Null is also back on attack.
The juniors will see action, too, although mostly in reserve. Kim Cosby and Betty Ann Pearce will go on attack with Jessica Despiau at midfield and Renee Cummings and Binny Nguyen on defense.
The Mariners have plenty of strength returning all over the field, but much of the scoring power graduated. If the Mariners can regroup on attack, they could make a move toward the top.
The Hawks return a pretty solid corps of veterans and plan to improve on last season's 3-9 record.
"This is the third year I've coached here and they are finally used to my system, the way I approach the game," said coach Barbara Waite. "We have a lot more team cohesiveness and willingness to do stuff and work together as a team."
Eight starters return to a squad that includes only three underclassmen on a 22-girl roster.
Senior keeper Kristen Archer leads the returnees on defense. Seniors Krista Doyle and Melanie Sturdivant also return along with sophomore Erin Kroneberger.
In the midfield, seniors Melissa Schreiber and Taffy Schunter return while seniors Chrissy Pardew and Mindy Luzuriaga are back on attack.
Returning senior Carli Blische and sophomore Wendy Dieter should see plenty of action on attack as will senior Terry Gatta in the midfield.
Newcomers to varsity include defenders Tesha DuBree, Brandy Everett, Alison Geczy, Cameron McComas and Jenifer Wojcik, midfielder Christine Homa and attackers Renee Kehler, Dawn Kozlowski, Amy Robinson, Terry Spangler and Natasha Winberg.