BETHESDA - As a Landon School third-grader, Peter Lamade marveled at the skills of Baltimore-area high school lacrosse teams who faced his school's upperclassmen.
"I was in awe of their moves, stickwork, how they did things," Lamade said. "It was hard to imagine ever being on their level."
These days, it's Lamade and his Landon teammates who are doing the impressing.
The nation's No. 1-ranked team by Inside Lacrosse magazine, Landon of Montgomery County is routinely knocking off the best teams in Baltimore.
"I played with the Landon guys the past couple of summers, and their work ethic was incredible," said Loyola attackman Evan Gallant. "They spent a lot of time on shooting, lifting, running, everything. They deserve the accolades."
Inside Lacrosse ranks Lamade among the nation's top eight high school midfielders along with teammate Brendan Healey. Senior defender Tony Vita (heading to Princeton) and senior attackman Matt Ward (Virginia) rank in the top five and six nationally at their positions.
In his 27th year as Landon's coach, Rob Bordley is 25-33 overall against Baltimore's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, considered the nation's premier high school lacrosse league. But since a season-opening loss to St. Paul's in 1999, Bordley has won 11 of the past 13 games against MIAA teams.
A non-denominational private school of 640 boys from third through 12th grade, Landon draws students from throughout the Washington area, "but we don't recruit," Bordley said. Most athletes arrive before ninth grade and work up through five separate under-squads.
Landon teams once featured football-player types with little skill. Now those players have the skill to go with their physical attributes. Six Landon players were among 25 selected statewide to last summer's Free State Team.
"They have depth. They're physical like upstate New York teams. They have Baltimore stick skills," said Landon assistant Duncan Miller, a Fayetteville, N.Y., native. "They're as good as I've seen and can play with anybody."
Inside Lacrosse high school editor Sam Atkinson said coaches nationwide compare Landon to Boys' Latin's unbeaten team of 1997, which produced last spring's NCAA Defensive Player of the Year among three collegiate All-Americans.
"It's tough to compare them with unbeaten MIAA teams, but they're extremely talented with team speed and athleticism that our program doesn't have," said St. Paul's coach Mitch Whiteley. "And they're on a roll."
Landon is 52-3 over the past three seasons, with a 25-game winning streak. This year's 12-10 win over Loyola was Landon's sixth in the past four years over a team ranked No. 1 by The Sun.
"They've got talent across the board. They're disciplined and well-coached. They compare favorably to teams I've been associated with," said John Tucker, who coached Gilman to three titles and Loyola to last year's MIAA A Conference crown. "Being outside of the traditional lacrosse hotbeds, New York and Baltimore, they've raised the bar for everyone."
Landon (8-0) enters its second Interstate Athletic Conference game today against Episcopal (Va.) having won 21 straight league crowns. It has lost only twice in the IAC since that league's inception in 1981.
Now, Landon has encroached on Baltimore, causing some private schools to drop it from their schedules. But Landon isn't likely to risk its ties to the IAC by joining the MIAA, as independent St. Mary's did in 1986, when the league was known as the Maryland Scholastic Association.
"That isn't going to happen. There are much larger issues than us playing lacrosse. Other teams in other sports have caused ill feelings by trying to pull out of the league," Bordley said.
Unlike most coaches with programs of his stature, the fiery Bordley, a Landon graduate, never played lacrosse before college. His drive, coupled with his skills as a football wide receiver and U.S. rugby team captain, helped him as a walk-on lacrosse player at Princeton, where he earned All-Ivy League honors.
"I'm absolutely obsessed, crazy and, some would say, compulsive when it comes to this game," said Bordley, 54, who credits John Shooshan and three other assistants for the program's success. "I'm not sure how much I know about this sport, and my assistants get far too little credit. But I have a passion that I try to pass on to the kids."
That intensity goes into learning the game from other coaches and pushing players through year-round lacrosse activities.
"When the season's over, we're busy looking at summer camps, tournaments, scheduling next year's games and practicing JV kids to prepare for the move up to varsity," Bordley said while sitting in a tiny office whose walls are lined with plaques and pictures celebrating the accomplishments of past teams.
"People think I'm nuts for working so hard in the off-season, but we pride ourselves on preparation."
Bordley "always has his notepad," said Ryan Curtis, a former Virginia defender and one of Landon's three collegiate All-Americans. "We studied film, notes and strategies and beat teams that were better than us because we were so prepared."
Bordley has a 376-59 record in 27 seasons. He became Landon's head coach in the school's second year of varsity lacrosse in 1975. A 20-0 mark this year would surpass the 1999 squad's school record for victories (19-1) and join the 18-0 teams of 1988 and 1992 in going unbeaten.
"We have an opportunity to do something special and don't want to blow an opportunity to get Mr. Bordley's first 20-0 season," said Lamade, whose team has road games against St. Mary's (April 16), DeMatha (April 20), league rival and national No. 3 Georgetown Prep (April 25) and Gilman (May 7).
Wins over Gilman and St. Mary's would make Landon 4-0 against the MIAA. The 1999 Bears were 4-1.
"It's hard to believe you're as good as people say," said Vita, Landon's senior defender, "but you want to set new standards and prove yourself - especially in Baltimore."