Dave Gehrdes was a girls lacrosse head coach-in-waiting at Annapolis last year, when the Panthers stunned Severna Park, 9-7, in overtime.
Gehrdes served as an assistant to Sue Chittim, who left the program later that season when she had a baby. But he vividly recalls the triumph over Severna Park, which would go on to win its sixth consecutive 4A-3A state championship.
"That game really gave our kids confidence in themselves," said Gehrdes, who will be coaching tomorrow when the fifth-ranked Panthers travel to No. 4 Severna Park in the regular-season finale.
The game also provided added incentive for Severna Park when the two teams met again in the 4A-3A Region IV finals. That time, Severna Park came out on top, 13-10, after almost squandering a six-goal lead in the second half.
Like last year's first meeting, the two teams are unbeaten heading into tomorrow's much-anticipated game. The Falcons (11-0) have won 23 in a row since losing to Annapolis, though they've narrowly escaped defeat a couple of times this year.
The closest call came on April 13, when Severna Park barely got past No. 6 Broadneck, 12-11. Last week, No. 8 St. Mary's rallied in the second half to trail 10-9 with 6:22 left, before losing, 14-10.
"Being in games like that will help us [tomorrow]," said Falcons coach Carin Peterson, who welcomed back 17 players from last season, including All-Americans Amy Carnaggio and Erin Wylde.
Meanwhile, the Panthers (12-0) have been short-circuiting scoreboards across the county with an attack that produces goals in swift succession. They've scored as many as 23 goals in one game, and also have posted impressive wins over Northeast (22-4), Old Mill (20-7), Chesapeake (19-10), Archbishop Spalding (18-5) and Arundel (17-2).
"This year's team is more evenly balanced, as far as scoring is concerned," Gehrdes said.
Junior Cristi Samaras leads the county in scoring with 47 goals and 35 assists, but she receives plenty of support from the likes of seniors Shannon Cordell (33, 21) and Lauren Feinstein (26, 11).
This means that the Falcons' defense, led by senior goalkeeper Brandee Snyder, senior Stephanie Roberts and junior Erin McNeally, will be put to the test. Peterson doesn't expect the unit to fail.
"I have a lot of confidence in my team," she said.
Annapolis has plenty of talent on the defensive side, as well, including junior goalkeeper Katie Brew, seniors Cory Samaras and Inga Fredland, junior Cheryl Ragland and freshman Stephy Samaras.
"I think it will be a goal-for-a-goal type of game, a very high-scoring game," said Cristi Samaras. "It will be pretty equal."
Peterson said, "I'm hoping for a good defensive game. I not only like to rely on our offense, but I like to rely on our defense, too."
Like Annapolis, the Falcons are imposing at every position. The midfield talent includes Wylde, who scored 45 goals last year, Carnaggio, Liz Wilson, Kathy McCafferty, Colleen Gately and Katie Kuch. The attack boasts Lizzy Warfield, a first-team All-County selection last year, and Tressa Campbell. The team is deep and explosive.
When asked what worries him most about Severna Park, Gehrdes said: "Their speed, their teamwork. They have a well-balanced attack, too. Their scoring is spread out. There's not one particular person to key on. Every one of their girls can put the ball in the goal.
"Both teams have real good defenses, too. No team wins championships without good defense. That will be the telling factor overall. And a lot of it comes down to matchups."
The matchups have been favoring the Panthers' all season. Their closest game was a 5-4 victory over St. Mary's in the rain at the Betty Hallmark Tournament.
"It's definitely going to be close," said St. Mary's coach Tina Lewnes, "but I think Severna Park is going to come away with it. The talent is evenly spread among both teams, but there's just something about Severna Park. It might be that they're more of a complete team. When we tried to shut down one or two of their scorers, there were others who scored. They have so many different players who are capable of doing that."
Tomorrow's game originally was scheduled as a season opener on March 23, but was postponed because of rain.
"We'd rather have played it earlier," Gehrdes said. "We'll probably see them again in a week [in the regional playoffs], so it's not a good situation for either team. But it does make the game more dramatic."