When Jackie Doherty and her teammates don their Mount Hebron lacrosse uniforms, they play for many more girls than will take the field this spring.
They play for every girl who has contributed to the Vikings' winning streak, which reached 101 games Monday.
"Knowing the girls from [our] freshman year, you know how hard each year has worked to keep it up and you don't want to be the one to let it down," said Doherty, a senior. "We're doing it for all the girls who put in the time and the work and for our coaches. While we're playing for ourselves, we're also playing for the girls who started it."
The girls on this year's team don't know anything other than winning. They've never experienced a loss on a high school lacrosse field. Last May, they won the program's 10th straight state title and were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Lacrosse magazine for the fifth straight year.
As dominating as they are, the Vikings have one more goal to accomplish, something that would make their resume truly unparalleled: the all-time record for consecutive victories in girls lacrosse.
That record, believed to be the national girls lacrosse mark, belongs to Loch Raven, which ran up 103 straight wins between 1973 and 1982. The Raiders also went 104 games without a loss, tying the game before their streak began.
The Vikings could reach 104 in their tournament next Saturday.
As they approach the record, coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland keeps it foremost in the Vikings' minds that they are part of a tradition much bigger than themselves. She reminds them of it often through creative motivational tactics that give an extra dimension to the coaching staff's relentless preparation for each thoroughly scouted opponent.
"I feel like if we give them that little extra push, that could be the reason for the victory," said Kuhl-McClelland, who is 96-0 in her sixth season as head coach.
Last May, before the Vikings went to play Moorestown, N.J., in a game that ultimately would decide the No. 1 national ranking, Kuhl-McClelland asked former players to write words of inspiration for the current players. She handed out copies of the letters on the bus.
Melissa McCarthy, a 2002 graduate now playing at North Carolina, wrote of the Vikings' "bag of tricks."
"This 'bag of tricks' holds a legacy over two decades old," McCarthy wrote, "and it overflows with: a passion for facing a challenge; the ability to overcome disabilities, disadvantages, self-doubt and skepticism: it reeks of sweat; it is stained with blood. Walk onto the field carrying your 'bag of tricks' that we, every player that's ever worn a Vikings jersey, have built together."
Mount Hebron defeated Moorestown, 10-8.
"[The letters] pumped us up so much," senior Kara Passarelli said. "That goes back to how there is so much tradition, how there have been so many girls before us and they all want us to do well."
Legacy of excellence
Since the program began in 1988, the Vikings have gone 317-20-1. That's a .938 winning percentage.
On Monday, the Vikings beat Centennial, 17-4, to reach 101 straight wins. Their last loss came at St. Stephen's/St. Agnes in Alexandria, Va., on May 10, 2001. They last lost to a local team, St. Mary's, on April 19, 1998.
Loch Raven's 103-game winning streak has stood since Severna Park ended it on May 20, 1982 - six years before the Vikings and the rest of Howard County began playing girls lacrosse.
As they go for the record, the Vikings have an unexpected ally - Joy Nuttall, who coached Loch Raven through its streak.
"Records are made to be broken, and Loch Raven's record has stood for 25 years," said Nuttall, who was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces In the Crowd" when the Raiders' streak hit 100. "I've only heard good things about that Mount Hebron team. If they break the record, I say, 'Great. Go on and set your own record for some other team to break.' "
Back in the 1970s and early '80s, Nuttall faced many of the same challenges Kuhl-McClelland faces today, especially in how to keep her team motivated when it had a lot of lopsided wins.
"It takes a tremendous amount of the psychological game keeping kids in those games. It's a tremendous job, and it's very difficult," Nuttall said.
"The girls at Loch Raven, I think they learned, at the time that they had that streak, that each subsequent team was responsible to something much larger than themselves. That was the lacrosse team. They took that seriously, and we had passionately dedicated kids. That's what was largely responsible for that streak lasting that many years."
The Vikings have the same passion for the game. Like the Raiders, they grew up around lacrosse and aspired to be part of the Mount Hebron tradition.
The girls bring a lot of motivation, but Kuhl-McClelland gives them plenty of prodding in her pre-game pep talks. Before each big game, she comes up with a new way to fire up the team.
Before last year's state title game, she lined up five players and told the girls to look at them: No. 10 Jill Rekart, No. 14 Jacqueline Giles, No. 9 Meg McNerney, No. 6 Passarelli and No. 1 Megan Bosica.
The girls were baffled until their coach pointed out the significance of the numbers.
The Vikings were about to play for their 10th consecutive state championship and their 14th overall. Their winning streak at that point was 96 games. One more win would push the streak to 97 and seal the No. 1 ranking locally and nationally.
"Their jaws were on the ground," said Kuhl-McClelland, whose team went on to beat Stephen Decatur, 16-0, in the first shutout in the 17-year history of the state finals.
"I had no idea the streak was that big," Rekart said, "or that we had won that many championships. It was quite a realization once she put it out there."
Said Kuhl-McClelland: "It's powerful when it works. Sometimes, I have to wrack my brain to come up with some ideas of how to get them on to the next game and it's not always the big games; it's also the games we're pretty much guaranteed to win. Those are sometimes more challenging, because it's like the motivation is lacking."
Still, Doherty said the Vikings need to stay focused even in the most lopsided games, which usually account for most of their county league schedule.
"It's actually really tough," she said. "You might come out and feel, 'I don't have to score because someone else can,' but we need to take advantage of this and keep preparing for the big games and run every play through. You have to be sharp all the time."
To reach 104, the Vikings will have to be at their best, because they are hitting the toughest stretch of their schedule. They meet No. 9 St. Paul's in Monday's High School Lacrosse Showdown at Johns Hopkins. Then they host their invitational tournament, playing Conestoga, Pa., ranked fifth in the nation last season, in the opening round Friday and No. 15 St. Mary's of West Genesee, N.Y., next Saturday.
The challenge doesn't bother Giles.
"I'm really excited that we're playing those teams," she said, "because then, if we get it, people will look on the record with respect rather than thinking, 'Oh, they were easy games.' Some people may look at it as an inopportune time, but I'm excited, because we're going to get to fight for that record rather than have it handed to us."
While the pressure is building, the players said it's not a lot different than it always has been. Pressure comes with the territory. It's part of playing for a dynasty.
The possibility of losing does cross their minds, but they don't let it linger. With their dedication and the dedication of a coaching staff, including assistants Tony Giro and Tommy McClelland, that has scouted each coming opponent more than once, the Vikings know they have done everything they can to keep up the tradition - and the streak.
"People are waiting for you to lose and talking about it," Doherty said, "but I'd rather be the top team and have everyone wanting us to lose than be fighting to get to No. 1. You can't complain about the pressure when you have all these positive things coming from being No. 1 - county, state regional championships. That's good enough for me. Bring on the pressure.
"It'll be a tough year, but if all goes well, it will be the best year ever."
About the Vikings
Mount Hebron girls lacrosse 20th-year quick facts:
All-time record: 317-20-1
All-time winning percentage: .938
Current winning streak: 101
State titles: 14
Consecutive state titles: 10
Regional titles: 17
Howard County titles: 19
Consecutive county titles: 16
Lacrosse magazine season No. 1 rankings: 8
All-Metro Players of the Year: 4 Cathy Nelson, 1994 Lauren Kickham, 2000 Kristen Waagbo, 2003 Megan Bosica, 2005, '06
On a roll
Baltimore-area high school sports winning and unbeaten streaks of 45 or more against all opponents (* denotes unbeaten streak):
59: Dunbar (1981-83)
70: Towson Catholic (1983-85)
54: Severna Park (1992-96)
48*: Fallston (1992-95)
54*: City (1934-41)
72: St. Paul's (ended 1947)
56: Towson (1992-95)
104*: Loch Raven (1973-82)
103: Loch Raven (1973-82)
101: Mount Hebron (2001-present)
67: Loch Raven (1987-92)
63*: Mount Hebron (1998-2001)
57: Severna Park (1988-91)
54: Mount Hebron (1998-2001)
45: Centennial (1993-96)
57*: Severna Park (1987-91)
46: Severna Park (1987-91)
64: Northeast (1988-91)
155 matches: Pikesville (1978-88)
105 matches: Pikesville (1967-76)
55 matches: Centennial (ended 1993)