For the greater part of the last six years, conversations surrounding Howard County girls lacrosse have begun and, in many cases, ended with Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge.
The Gladiators — winners of three consecutive state championships — and the Mustangs — winners of two state titles in the three years prior to that — have risen to national prominence and managed to sustain that level of excellence.
Since 2013, the two programs have finished fourth or higher in the county standings each spring and combined to win four of the six county titles during that span.
Consistently competing against the elite, though, does have its advantages.
Mt. Hebron, the county’s other girls lacrosse program with a rich history of success, showcased the county’s depth last year — the first season in which the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association expanded from three classifications to four. The Vikings, emerging from the recent postseason shadow of Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge, peaked at the perfect time on its way to an appearance in the 3A state championship game after a five-loss regular season.
“The tiered system that the county went to a few years ago, that really increased the level of competition on a daily basis for all the teams. We already are very fortunate to face elite competition in Howard County, so you throw in strong opponents from around the area as well and it absolutely prepares you for the postseason,” Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said. “I think sometimes the number of quality county teams was lost in the past because everyone was grouped together … so yeah, last year we were able to show that depth a little bit with the run we made.”
Prior to last spring, Howard had carried the county torch in the 3A/4A classification. The only county school not lumped together as part of the 3A/2A South region, the Lions put together region championship runs in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Last year proved, however, that with expansion comes opportunity.
Howard is now in 4A North, losing by two goals to eventual state-finalist Dulaney in last year’s region semifinals. Atholton, Centennial, Long Reach, Reservoir and aforementioned Mt. Hebron are in the 3A East region.
And the other six county schools — Glenelg, Hammond, Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Wilde Lake — are in 2A South. It’s an alignment heading into this spring that county coaches see providing a real possibility of the county crowning three regional champions in the same season for the first time in history.
“Howard County has always been a hot bed for lacrosse and I think this year should be no different,” Howard coach Katelyn Joyce said. “I know we are excited to try and build off last season, and we’ve really hit the ground running from where we were.”
Howard is replacing five starters from last year’s squad that went 5-2 against league competition — losing only to Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge in county play. But with senior Jamie Tsao (62 points in 2018) returning to lead the offense and a trio of seasoned juniors anchoring the midfield, the Lions have the pieces to continue on an upward trajectory.
Until proven otherwise, though, everything still goes through Glenelg. The Gladiators have gone unbeaten in county play back-to-back seasons and, on a bigger scale, are aiming this spring to become just the third high school program in Maryland history to win four consecutive state championships — potentially joining Severna Park (1990-1993) and the Mt. Hebron dynasty that won four straight (1992-1995) and then later 11 titles in a row (1997-2007).
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of pressure, but we like to say to the girls that ‘It’s a goal, not a burden.’ We know what the standards are and what we are trying to accomplish and, while every single group that has come through is a little different, that ultimate goal remains the same,” Glenelg coach Nikki Trunzo said.
The Gladiators bring back four all-county players, including first-team standouts Jenny Giampalmo and Emily Nalls.
Marriotts Ridge also brings back four players that made all-county a season ago and that quartet of Victoria Hensh, Eloise Clevenger, Erin Cooke and Katie Thompson each registered 45 or more points in 2018.
The Mustangs have lost the last five meetings against Glenelg, but each match-up has been decided by five goals or less. The last two playoff games have been the closest battles, with the Gladiators winning by two goals in 2017 and a single goal last spring.
“Those playoff losses absolutely stick with you, how could they not? Nobody wants to go home, especially not by one or two goals,” Marriotts Ridge coach Amanda Brady said. “So yes, these seniors are hungry and motivated to achieve something none of them have.”
Looking across the county as a whole, there are returning all-county players for 10 of the 12 public school programs.
Mt. Hebron, a popular team to watch among coaches in addition to Howard, brings back first-team forward Ellie Miller (62 points in 2018) and second-team goalie Georgia Ryan.
Centennial, which joins Glenelg, Howard and Marriotts Ridge as a tier one program in the county, welcomes back first-team midfielder Marissa Lagera (48 points in 2018). The Eagles also will get a boost in the midfield from the return of junior Rasa Welsh from an ankle injury and the arrival of freshman Alaina Kelly.
River Hill — which has just two returning starters — along with Reservoir and Atholton are all relatively young squads filled with potential in the county’s second tier.
Looking even deeper, Hammond finished above .500 last season while playing in the county’s third tier and has the area’s leading returning scorer in senior Jane Ridgell (75 points).
It all adds up to what figures to be plenty of intriguing match-ups.
“Howard County lacrosse can give you a lot of surprises, so really not much would shock me this year,” said Reservoir first-year coach Stephanie Bebko, who takes over the Gators after spending the past two seasons as an assistant at Manchester Valley High School.
In the private school ranks, Glenelg Country is set to compete in its third season as a member of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference. The Dragons made significant strides last season, finishing 9-3 in league play and making it to the semifinals of the conference tournament.
A strong core group of seniors return with the hope of taking another step forward.
“Last year I think was a good indicator for our girls of what our potential is and how good we can be. For us, now it comes down to consistency.” Glenelg Country coach Brian Reese said. “We proved we are capable of beating anyone, defeating Notre Dame Prep at the beginning of last season. Now we have to decide if we are ready to play at that level every single day.”
Glenelg Country is already off to a solid start, opening the regular season with a 14-13 victory over defending Independent School League A Division champion Bullis and a 11-10 A Conference win over John Carroll.
Chapelgate is a second-year program competing in the C Conference and will be looking to improve after a winless 2018 campaign.
Of the rule changes in place for this spring, the biggest is the introduction of the self-start. Players fouled outside the critical scoring area are now allowed, after coming to a stop or settled stance, to continue the course of play without waiting for the whistle of a referee.
Brady says she expects this to potentially be a “game changer,” when it comes to the transition game.
The first play date for public school teams is March 21, with the first county match-ups on tap for the following day. Showdowns between Howard and Marriotts Ridge, along with Glenelg against Mt. Hebron, highlight that initial day of league play.
Around the League
A look at all 14 local teams entering the 2019 season:
Coach: Laura Foerster Puglisi
2018 record: 3-6 county, 3-10 overall
Top players: Senior Ella Farris (MF); junior Olivia Chory (MF); sophomores Kyleigh Eaton (G), Molly Flynn (D), Makayla Gravely-Smith (A), Christina Min (D), Taylor McManus (D), Christina Min (D) and Alayna Rhodovi (MF).
Coach’s report: “Much of our returning midfield will be breaking out and we have returning players with experience at midfield, attack and in goal.”
Coach: Bethany Cunha
2018 record: 3-4, 4-10
Top players: Senior Marissa Lagera (MF); juniors Carolina Pellegrini (MF), Sarah Thorman (G), Sarah Toth (D) and Rasa Welsh (MF); sophomores Jane Hudson (D), Louisa Lagera (A) and Nicole Ouellette (A); freshman Alaina Kelly (MF).
Coach’s report: “We will have a young team led by the experienced leadership of lone senior Marissa Lagera. Our strength this year will be on attack and midfield as we have several scoring threats and experienced midfielders. Our younger squad is so far the hardest working group we have had in years and are coachable, driven and talented.”
Coach: Nikki Trunzo
2018 record: 7-0, 17-2
Top players: Seniors Courtney Baehr (D), Sarah Cipolla (A), Jenny Giampalmo (MF), Annie Jubb (D), Malory Jubb (A), Olivia LePage (MF), Emily Nalls (MF) and Maddie Southern (D).
Coach’s report: “Defensively, we are looking very strong so far with that group really working hard in practice and supporting one another. Overall, it’s a very vocal team this year that does a really nice job of pumping one another up. Our seniors are stepping into leadership roles and the underclassmen seem to be embracing the challenge of filling the shoes of the seniors we graduated from last year.”
Coach: Lindsay Kolesar
2018 record: 3-2, 9-6
Top players: Senior Jane Ridgell (MF) and junior Brenda Merino (D/MF)
Coach’s report: “Based on our returners and some newcomers, we are starting off the season well ahead of where we have in years past. Our players are showing notable improvement in basic stick skills and overall game awareness. Their dedication and hard work is commendable.”
Coach: Katelyn Joyce
2018 record: 5-2, 8-9
Top players: Senior Jamie Tsao (A); juniors Jenna Peed (MF), Kelly Schluederberg (MF) and Leah Spalding (MF).
Coach’s report: “I think our team’s strength will definitely be in the midfield. We return a set of juniors who already have two years prior varsity experience and are all committed to Division I programs. They see the field very well, and will have support from several underclassmen.”
Coach: Kevin Broadus
2018 record: 2-4, 4-9
Top players: Seniors Dumebi Adigwe (A), Valerie Haney (MF), Karis Owens (MF), Madison Wong (D); junior Leah McClelland (MF).
Coach’s report: “We hope to win more than four games and be more competitive this year, especially against the middle of the pack teams like Centennial and River Hill.”
Coach: Amanda Brady
2018 record: 6-1, 13-3
Top players: Seniors Erin Cooke (A), Ashley Fisher (D), Victoria Hensh (A), Claire Meininger (D), Olivia Ranta (G) and Katie Thompson (A); juniors Eloise Clevenger (MF) and Gracie Kennedy (A).
Coach’s report: “Our defense is returning four of our five starters, including our goalie Olivia Ranta. They are eager and lethal when on the same page. This year’s group brings a lot of intensity, determination and expertise. They know how to laugh and have a good time, but they work hard and are able to keep up the intensity.”
Coach: Lindsay Menton
2018 record: 6-3, 13-6
Top players: Seniors Lindsay Connell (MF) and Ellie Miller (A); Juniors Alex Suazo (D) and Olivia Suazo (A); sophomores Haley Kampert (MF), Michelle Pak (MF) and Ashley Unkenholz (A).
Coach’s report: “We have a very dynamic group that have come in ready to go and it has allowed us to hit the ground running. This team is extremely motivated, already setting their eyes on the prize, and everyone is meshing right in. We have more of a veteran attack and I anticipate that being a strength right from the beginning of the season.”
Coach: Jamie Twardowicz
2018 record: 0-5, 1-12
Top players: Seniors Kerry Browne (MF), Kayla Compson (A), Peyton Gomes (MF), Kerrington Mills (D), Liz Negrea (D) and Hannah Smelkinson (A); junior Cori Lawson (MF).
Coach’s report: “Our strength this season will be that we have a large group of seniors who all offer many different attributes to our team. All of them show great leadership and are very versatile. We are excited to see all our players develop and reach their potential.”
Coach: Stephanie Bebko
2018 record: 2-7, 3-11
Top players: Senior Annabelle Salkeld (D/MF) and junior Sarah Nam (MF).
Coach’s report: “Returning senior Annabelle Salkeld and junior Sarah Nam have consistently shown their leadership on the defensive side of the ball, which has really helped our younger players pick up the speed of the game. Our goal is to develop more of a presence on offense this season, and that starts with cleaning up our transition game. We also have a few younger players that have shown a lot of potential so far, and we hope they will have an immediate impact for us.”
Coach: Amy Weinberg
2018 record: 4-5, 6-10
Top players: Seniors Abby Bae (D) and Lexi Thielemann (MF); junior Lindsey Smith (MF); sophomore Lindsey Miller; freshmen Erin Devine (MF), Molly Maloney (A) and Claire Slade (A).
Coach’s report: “We have only two starters returning — Thielemann and Miller — for us this year, but it is expected that their leadership will guide us to top wins. Midfield will be our biggest strength, gaining possession quick off the draw and being able to sufficiently execute on the attacking end. Defensively, we will be reliant on our communication as well as footwork to get big defensive stops.”
Coach: Michael Rhodovi
2018 record: 2-4, 3-10
Top players: Seniors Diamonique Service (D) and Autumn Weinig (MF); juniors Alayah Collins (A), Alexis Collins (A) and Aliyah Hodges (MF); sophomores Lia Carlesi (MF), Sara Moody (MF) and Bridget Tiffy (D); freshmen Kayla Hunter (MF) and Sandra Stachel (MF).
Coach’s report: “I’m looking forward to an exciting season. Everyone has been working harder, longer and is better prepared than in seasons past … and they are having fun doing it. Our depth of position players on offense with different backgrounds is allowing us to be multifaceted.”
Coach: Judie Puckett
2018 record: 0-12 IAAM C, 0-15
Top players: Seniors Molly Donnelly (D), Bti Garrett (D) and Abby Morsberger (D); juniors Christian Cummins (D), Gabby Little (G) and Addison Mueller (MF/A); sophomores Katherine Morsberger (MF) and Annabelle Puckett (MF); freshman Julia Barr (MF).
Coach’s report: “This is an incredible group of girls that I am so honored to coach. They are incredibly hard working and are committed to playing with honor and tenacity every minute of the game. I have so much respect for them. Our goal this year is to improve in all areas.
Coach: Brian Reese
2018 record: 9-3 IAAM A, 12-5
Top players: Seniors Shaylan Ahearn (MF), Allie Bateman (A), Avery Dyer (G), Olivia O’Leary (D), Addie Schmidt (D) and Kate Sites (MF).
Coach’s report: “I think this is a really balanced team and our deepest team we have had. We have nine seniors that will play a huge part in the success of our season. We have experience at each position with capable backups that will rotate in. On offense, all seven players are capable of scoring so it should be tough to focus on one or two players.”
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports