When they were both high school lacrosse players in Carroll County, Ryan Drenner wasn't sure Ben McCarty knew who he was.
McCarty, two years Drenner's senior, was a star at South Carroll, and Drenner's Westminster squad was always careful to game plan for him.
A few years later, Drenner and McCarty joined forces at Towson, and this spring, the duo has helped the program to one of the best starts in school history. Entering Saturday's matchup against Johns Hopkins, the No. 6 Tigers have their highest ranking in the USILA/Nike Coaches' Poll in 14 years.
Drenner, an attackman, is a key cog in the Towson offense averaging almost 11 goals per game with 19 points on 10 goals and a team-high nine assists. McCarty, a fifth-year senior captain who helps anchor the midfield, ranks fifth on the team with eight points for the Tigers (5-0).
"It's good to be recognized for our hard work," Drenner said Tuesday. "It's nice to be recognized nationally, but we don't really pay attention much to the polls. We're just going game in and game out, playing our best and trying to get a win each week."
McCarty and Drenner, who are joined by former Westminster players Dan Carder, Chad Patterson, and Jesse Uhlman, both had decorated prep careers.
McCarty was a two-time Times Player of the Year and two-time All-American at South Carroll, where he finished his career with a program-best 144 goals and 82 assists. Drenner had a standout senior season with 69 goals and 69 assists to earn Times Player of the Year honors in 2013. When he graduated, he was first in county history in assists (135) and second in points (281).
When McCarty arrived at Towson, though, things were a little different than he expected. Shawn Nadelen replaced Tony Seaman before the 2012 season, McCarty's true freshman year, and in trying to change the culture of the program, the new staff clashed with the returning players. On top of that, McCarty's season was cut short by a torn hamstring and he redshirted.
"That was definitely difficult," McCarty said. "But as time progressed, it was really easy to get on board because it was clear they were leading us to success."
Though injuries popped up throughout McCarty's career, he appeared in all 18 of Towson's games as a junior captain last season and finished with 10 goals and six assists. Nadelen took notice of McCarty's work ethic both on the field and off, where the 23-year-old sometimes goes directly from the Tigers' practice to an internship with T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills.
"He's definitely a voice within the team, especially the offense," Nadelen said. "He's a voice in the locker room. He doesn't take much BS from guys, especially if guys aren't putting in effort and attention to detail because he's a guy that does that. He's a hard-working guy."
After finishing second on the team in points last season with 35, Drenner was boosted his production this season. He has 76 points in his Towson career, and he credited the Westminster program with having him ready to contribute early in his career.
In 2013, Drenner led the Owls to the Class 4A-3A championship, avenging a loss to South River in the previous season's title game and capping an undefeated campaign. At Westminster, Drenner knew the high expectations every season, and he knew the goals would be similar once he came to college.
"It definitely does prepare you, just having success is a good thing to come into college with," Drenner said. "It's a lot of fun to be able to make that state championship run my senior year and that did give me a lot of confidence coming into freshman year of college with that success under my belt."
Nadelen said his staff looks at the state's top programs to help find players with the mindset he wants on his team. He's recruited players from Kent Island, South River, Hereford, and Linganore, all of which have won state championships since 2010. Plus, Towson has players on its roster from St. Mary's, Boys' Latin and Calvert Hall, which are three of the past four Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "A" Conference champions.
"It's something that those programs continue to succeed, so we're going to continue to look at those guys because we want that kind of mentality," Nadelen said. "We want guys that have been successful. We want guys that understand what it takes to be a part of a championship program, the work that goes into it, the effort that goes into it."
Both McCarty and Drenner said they felt in preseason that this year's Towson team could accomplish something special, especially after last year ended with a two-goal loss at eventual national semifinalist Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. And in order for Towson to reach its goals, the Tigers are going to continue to need contributions from Drenner and McCarty.
Despite where the Tigers are now, with their undefeated start and national accolades, Drenner and McCarty know Towson is far from where it wants to end up at the end of the season. And for the duo, it's far from the fields in Westminster and Winfield where they squared off as high school stars.
"I think Carroll County's kind of an overlooked place in Maryland when it comes to lacrosse," McCarty said. "There's a lot of talent there and it just goes unnoticed. … But I think it prepared me fairly well."