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Liberty takes aim at sixth straight county crown


Girls lacrosse came to Carroll County seven years ago and everybody started out on the same page.

There was no tradition, little interest, no feeder systems and not much talent.

But Westminster, South Carroll, Liberty and North Carroll plunged forward into unchartered territory in a county where softball has always been king for girls in the spring. Francis Scott Key still does not field girls or boys lacrosse teams.

There were no surprises in the first two seasons, with 4A Westminster winning back-to-back championships simply because it had the most numbers.

However, the party lasted only two years for the Owls.

The balance of power in the county shifted south quickly to Liberty primarily and somewhat to South Carroll.

Westminster and North Carroll were left behind due to rather barren recreation programs in the north.

As soon as the well-organized Freedom Optimist Recreation League in Sykesville began producing some skilled players for Liberty coach Courtney Vaughn, school was out for the rest of the county.

Vaughn has produced five straight Carroll County girls lacrosse championships and a 66-26 record in seven seasons. Liberty is 29-3 over the past two seasons and defeated everybody in the county by seven goals or more last season.

A 17-10 victory over South Carroll was the closest call for the Lions in a 6-0 county record last year.

Vaughn has orchestrated this dynasty perfectly, sending her varsity and junior varsity players out into the recreation leagues to coach the young players and spread the word about Liberty girls lacrosse.

"Our players really love the game and enjoy coaching," she said. "There is no substitute for that kind of exposure for our program. We have developed pride and tradition and have a lot of stability in our coaching staff."

Vaughn has been there all seven years and her assistants Gigi Jones and Lynn Stone have been with her for six years.

"It also helps a lot to have myself and Lynn teaching at Liberty," said Vaughn.

The one-time champion Westminster Owls now look for moral victories when they play Liberty.

South Carroll went all the way to the state 3A-4A girls lacrosse championship game in 1993, becoming the first Carroll County team to make it to the state tournament. But the 3A Cavaliers could not beat 2A Liberty that season.

South Carroll coach Stacy Stem is still looking for her first lacrosse victory over Liberty after five seasons.

The Lions won 13 straight games in 1993 before losing to Mount Hebron in the 1A-2A regionals. The Vikings were the only reason Liberty did not make it to the state tournament until last year.

Once Mount Hebron moved to 3A-4A, Liberty waltzed through the regionals and into the state finals against Loch Raven last season. The Lions outscored three playoff opponents, 63-24, before meeting Loch Raven, which is 99-2 over the past seven seasons.

The Raiders romped past Liberty, 19-7, but it was obvious Vaughn had taken the Lions to a higher level, needing to climb one more major step to reach the top with Loch Raven.

"Loch Raven had the jump on us," said Vaughn. "They had a lot of playoff experience. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to play them again this year. We just need to win games and get out of our region to get another shot at them."

To prepare her team for the likes of a Loch Raven in the state finals, Vaughn has attempted to upgrade her nonleague schedule.

Last year, Liberty competed in the Mount Hebron Easter tournament, defeating C.W. Baker from Baldwinsville, N.Y., before losing to Mount de Sales in the championship game.

This season, Liberty is playing host to an Easter tournament, bringing in last year's state 3A-4A runner-up Dulaney, National Cathedral of Washington, and St. Stephens/St. Agnes of Alexandria, Va.

South Carroll, getting some spillover from the Freedom rec league, has been on the fringe of challenging Liberty the past two years. But the Cavaliers just don't have enough top players or depth to match the Lions.

Stem has literally coaxed her players to greater heights in some seasons.

In 1993, Stem had no goalkeeper.

The most promising goalie on the team was sophomore Erin Nauyalis but she didn't want the pressure of being in the net. So Stem went to Nauyalis and pleaded with her to take the risk.

"Stacy gave me a guilt trip so I decided to do it," said Nauyalis after the Cavaliers' surprising run to the state 3A-4A championship game ended with a loss to Severna Park.

Westminster has had coaching stability with Suzanne Peters running the show all seven years, but the Gamber-Smallwood Recreation league hasn't progressed enough to send the Owls experienced players.

"We'd hope to have girls coming to Westminster with one or two years experience," said Peters. "The Gamber-Smallwood program is not strong, and we're fighting the popularity of softball and track and field at our school."

Peters also said she is at a disadvantage because she is not teaching at the school. Peters is expecting her second child after the lacrosse season and is on leave.

For North Carroll, it has been a constant struggle to be competitive. There have been no recreation programs at all in past seasons, with a few just starting to open up.

That has forced coach Denean Koontz to recruit heavily at North Carroll Middle School where she teaches.

"I'm trying to get a nucleus of players from middle school or anywhere else I can find them," she said. "We're also fighting the softball tradition here."

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