After losing six seniors to graduation and four projected starters to transfers and other interests, Carroll Christian boys soccer coach Matthew Reisberg knew he would have plenty of question marks entering this season.
Judging by the way the Patriots have launched into this fall's schedule, however, the verdict appears to be in.
After Tuesday's 4-2 victory over Harford Christian, the Westminster-area team is now 5-1 overall, including 3-1 in the Maryland Association of Christian Schools Athletic League.
"I essentially lost 10 of my key players," said Reisberg, whose team last year won the old Potomac Christian Athletic Conference and took second in the states, losing the final in double overtime. "I knew I had a talented team coming, but I figured they'd probably start a little slow. But they've been playing extremely well. Some of the seniors have stepped up and are playing better than I expected."
The team began the season with four straight wins, including a 2-1 shocker over Greater Grace, a squad Carroll Christian hadn't beaten in its more than 20 years at the varsity level. Last year, Greater Grace finished runner-up at the National Association of Christian Schools championships, ending a three-year run of winning the title.
The Patriots, however, are now out to win accolades of their own. So far, they have outscored opponents 20-9.
Two of the main reasons are seniors Brock Davis and Ben Stringham.
Davis, a returning All-County center-halfback, has four goals and six assists, placing him just one away from the school's career record of 27 assists. Stringham, meanwhile, has been one of the biggest surprises on the team, virtually shutting down opposing offenses from his position as stopper.
"He's always been a decent stopper, but this year, the way he's playing, he's just dominating the field," Reisberg said. "Very few shots are being taken on us, and that's just because they're not getting that far."
The team also is getting solid contributions from a pair of seniors who had never even played the sport at a competitive level before this season.
"We're a little bit better than what I was expecting us to be," Reisberg said.
Rachel Hawes of Century gave the best performance of any Carroll County runner at last weekend's Bull Run Invitational at Hereford, taking third in the girls small-school category, finishing the 3.1-mile race in 20 minutes, 20 seconds.
But as impressive as that was, the numbers behind the time are even better. The sophomore improved her time by nearly 40 seconds from last year's race - where she finished fifth on the grueling course.
"She did tremendous," said Century co-coach Brian Tombs.
Hawes is one of the brightest young runners in the state. As a freshman, she won the county, regional and Central Maryland Conference titles before taking third in the Class 1A states to earn Carroll County Runner of the Year honors.
Century moved up to 2A this year, and Hawes is pointing toward a repeat of last fall's sweep and a shot at the state title.
"That's what we're working toward," said the other co-coach, Linda Coons. "What's different right now is that the expectations are so high. It's expected for her [to win]. If she doesn't, then it's: 'What happened to Rachel?' We're trying to keep that pressure off of her."
Coons said Hawes has been battling some knee and asthma problems, but they haven't affected her much. The coaches have put Hawes with the boys during practice to push the sophomore in preparation for running against some faster competition in the postseason races.
She has passed her first few tests against tough competition; the third-place Bull Run finish came several days after taking third at the Howard County Striders Invitational. That race was loaded with quality 4A runners.
"She's doing very well now," Coons said. "We just want her to worry about the times and point toward the states."
The North Carroll girls soccer team tried a novel approach to game preparation on Tuesday. Before a game against South Carroll, players came to school wearing the school's cheerleader outfits, and remained in the attire throughout the day.
The cheerleaders, meanwhile, wore the Panthers' uniforms.
"They usually like to do something on game day, and they're friends with the cheerleaders," said North Carroll coach Jim MacDonald, who admittedly had a tough time recognizing a couple of his players. "It was hard to identify them in different uniforms."
Apparently the strategy worked. Carly Rihard scored the game's only goal in the Panthers' 1-0 win. North Carroll (3-1-2 overall, 2-0 CMC, 1-0 county) most likely will return to its more traditional garb, however, before tonight's game against visiting Linganore.
McManus serves up
Liberty's Erin McManus truly was an ace at serving on Monday against Thomas Johnson, even though the Lions' winning streak of 21 regular-season volleyball matches came to an end.
McManus brought out a knuckleball-like serve that the Patriots repeatedly were unable to handle. Several times, they would go down on their knees to field it, and the ball would hit their hands and just spin out of bounds or in another direction. McManus finished with a team-high eight aces to help the less-experienced Lions push Thomas Johnson to five games.
"I don't know exactly what that was," Liberty coach Dave Trumbo said of McManus' serve. "But they were having trouble with it."
Thomas Johnson scored a 15-4, 5-15, 15-11, 6-15, 15-13 win over the Lions. It was Liberty's first regular-season loss since Oct. 12, 2000 - also against the Patriots.