It has not taken long for the Winters Mill girls soccer team to put its subpar season of a year ago behind it. In a two-week span this month, the Falcons posted more wins than they did all last fall, when they finished 3-9.
While part of the team's success has to be attributed to the transfer of first-team All-County midfielder Cassie Cooke from Westminster, first-year coach Kirk Kucharski said there is more to it then that.
"It's really been an all-out effort from goalie, to defense, to across the midfield and then up front," said Kucharski, the school's junior varsity boys soccer coach a year ago. "The girls are still, in a way, getting used to each other. Honestly, I think the best is yet to come."
Through Winters Mill's first six games, Cooke has teamed with Missy Rankin, another first-team All-County midfielder, to create one of the most potent combinations in Carroll County. Through Friday, Rankin had six goals and three assists, and Cooke had three goals and six assists.
The Falcons' defense, meanwhile, had allowed just five goals - fewer than one a game. The team started 4-1-1, including a pair of victories and a tie in games that went to overtime.
The toughest part of the Falcons' schedule, however, is on the horizon, with Liberty, Century and Tuscarora - teams that were a combined 28-9-1 last season - on tap over the next three weeks.
"We really need to hit our stride," Kucharski said.
Eagles taking flight
Despite last week's setback to eight-time defending county champion Liberty, the Francis Scott Key volleyball team has served notice that it will be a strong contender for this year's county title and possibly more.
The team is led by senior setter Lauren Tracey and a pair of sophomore hitters in Kellee Stonesifer and Christine Isenberg, though Stonesifer is expected to miss at least a week after suffering a sprained left knee against Liberty.
Though the Eagles have struggled with unforced errors at times, they have also shown that, when at their best, there are few teams better.
"I think they have that taste in their mouths," coach Mindy Minchhoff said. "We lost a big hitter last year [All-county selection Dani Katsampis], but we have two sophomores who have really stepped up into that role. I think, as a whole, we have more talent.
"I think, in some of the matches where we play well, they see what we can do. If we could play that well all the time, we could go far this year."
Key started this season 5-0, including a pair of hard-fought five-game wins over Thomas Johnson and Urbana. Though not particularly tall, the team has excelled in serving and defense, keeping teams off balance so they can't set up the big hit.
The 5-foot-7 Stonesifer, a second-team All-County pick a year ago, is an athletic hitter as well as one of the team's best passers. Meanwhile, the 5-8 Isenberg, in her second season of competitive volleyball, has been a quick study.
"I think she has unlimited potential. We haven't even seen what she's going to bring to the team yet," Minchhoff said of Isenberg, who spent much of last season on the bench. "It's just a matter of working to get her timing down. I saw Christine's potential last year, and she worked hard this summer, attending camps and going to open gyms. She's really starting to get her swing down."
The Liberty football team continues to reap the rewards from last weekend's stunning 33-0 win over Westminster - the team's first win in nearly two years.
Lions running back Ethan Dorsey and lineman Mike Knox were named offensive and defensive players of the week in the MVAL's Blue Ridge Conference.
Dorsey rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries, and he scored four touchdowns. Knox, meanwhile, recorded six tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, also partially blocking a punt, deflecting a pass that was intercepted by a teammate and returning a fumble 44 yards to set up a touchdown.
A year after losing to the Owls, 47-21, in the midst of an 0-10 season, Liberty held them to just 59 total yards, including minus-11 rushing.
North Carroll quarterback Stefan Mitchell was named the Chesapeake Conference's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Panthers' 36-8 win over South Carroll.
Mitchell completed seven of nine passes in the first half for 213 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 250 yards passing and 46 yards rushing.
More on Mitchell
Mitchell has been selected to compete in the Ravens Halftime Quarterback Challenge, to be held at halftime of the Ravens game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 11.
He will compete against an opponent from North County to determine who can complete the longest pass.
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 senior, passed for 526 yards and seven touchdowns through the Panthers' first three games, all wins.
On the radio
Following a nearly monthlong absence, Westminster radio station WTTR (1470 AM) will resume its football broadcast schedule with Friday's game between North Carroll and Century.
The station's Friday night broadcasts will continue through Nov. 9, with Charlie Beckhardt doing the play by play and former Francis Scott Key coach Mike Coons on color commentary.
WTTR hasn't aired a high school game since Sept. 7 because of its Orioles coverage.
To submit news and story ideas about Carroll County high school athletics, contact Rich Scherr at CarrollSports @comcast.net.