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Girls lacrosse expansion to four state title games creates opportunities, a bit more equity

Glenelg's Anna Callahan shoots against Marriotts Ridge goalie Olivia Ranta during a 3A-2A South Region playoff game last season. Glenelg won, 8-6.
Glenelg's Anna Callahan shoots against Marriotts Ridge goalie Olivia Ranta during a 3A-2A South Region playoff game last season. Glenelg won, 8-6. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

City coach Sedrick Smith is happy to see the Maryland high school girls lacrosse tournaments expand from three state championships to four this spring.

In the past, the Knights have been in a region they had little chance to conquer. They’d win the Baltimore City championship and lose a lopsided playoff game to a top Baltimore County team. Now, the Knights are in a Class 3A South region with teams from the city, Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland. That’s a region Smith believes his team could win.

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“I think these are teams we’ll be a lot more competitive against in terms of skill. We played Towson and Hereford the past two years in the playoffs, and there’s such a huge skill gap there that it’s nice that the teams in Prince George’s are a little bit more comparable to the teams in Baltimore City, at least in 3A,” Smith said, adding that becoming the first Baltimore City team to win a regional — or even a sectional — title would likely draw more girls to the team.

The growth of the sport across the state prompted the expansion to four classifications. Prince George’s County, which had nine girls teams when it introduced lacrosse three years ago, joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association playoff system last year with 17 teams, said Earl Hawkins, coordinating supervisor of athletics for the county.

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With 22 Prince George’s programs competing this spring, 167 Maryland public schools field girls lacrosse teams. Only three counties among the state’s 24 jurisdictions do not offer the sport.

City girls lacrosse coach Sedrick Smith is pictured during a game against Western in 2016.
City girls lacrosse coach Sedrick Smith is pictured during a game against Western in 2016. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

I think these are teams we’ll be a lot more competitive against in terms of skill.


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“The increase in programs places the sport of lacrosse at a comparable number of schools as our other four-classification sports,” said William Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. (MPSSAA executive director Andy Warner was not made available for comment.)

Despite the growth from 125 participating schools in 2003 to 167, no team from outside the Baltimore suburbs has won a state girls lacrosse title. Three programs have combined to win nearly half of the 73 titles contested since the state tournament began in 1990 — Mount Hebron (15), Severna Park (13) and Century (eight). In the past seven years, only three programs have won for the first time.

While the expansion to four classifications, combined with the biennial reclassification of schools based on enrollment, should bring more equity within each class, a few regions will likely include two or three of the top four teams in that classification.

The Baltimore Sun's preseason girls lacrosse players to watch for 2018.

That’s especially true in Class 4A East, comprised mostly of Anne Arundel County teams. Severna Park, Broadneck, Annapolis and South River have combined to win 20 of the 28 state titles in 4A-3A. Last year, Severna Park won the regional title over South River, 13-9, and won the state semifinal, 15-0, over Montgomery Blair.

The championship game turned out to be one of the most competitive in tournament history with Bel Air edging Severna Park, 10-9. The Bobcats won a lopsided state semifinal too, 19-5 over Sherwood, after needing overtime to get past Westminster, 10-9, in the West region final.

Howard County’s top two teams, Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge, also remain in the same region, 2A South, after combining for five of the past seven 3A-2A titles. Glenelg won last year, but after beating Marriotts Ridge, 8-6, in the sectional final, the Gladiators won their last three games by at least nine goals each.

Still, the powerhouses have been spread out more than in the past, when as many as five former state champions ended up in one region. Now, 4A East, the mostly Anne Arundel region, and 3A North, with Bel Air, C. Milton Wright and Towson, are the only regions with more than two previous winners. The 1A classification includes just one former champion, Loch Raven.

While many coaches would prefer a system that allows the top four teams to play in the state semifinals, they like the expansion.

Nine-time defending IAAM A Conference champion McDonogh, which has won 177 straight games, is the No. 1 team in the Baltimore Sun's 2018 preseason girls lacrosse poll.

“I was definitely for it, because I feel that a lot of lacrosse talent was in one specific area, so I think this spreads it out a little bit more,” said Manchester Valley coach Shelly Brezicki, whose Mavericks won three straight times in 2A-1A before ending up in the same 3A-2A region with Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge last year.

“Obviously, there’s no perfect formula to try to figure this out and have even regions,” Brezicki said. “Unless we rate everybody and go across the board, there’s no way to get it so the talent is completely spread out. But overall for our sport, I think it’s a good opportunity for schools that traditionally have not had an opportunity to exceed at that level. I’m all about growing the sport and giving opportunities, so I think it’s a great thing.”

Dulaney coach Kristi Korrow agreed.

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“Any change that can increase the growth of the sport is good. I think it’s fantastic to see more teams like Leonardtown,” said Korrow of the team Dulaney beat, 15-11, in the 2016 state final after Leonardtown surprised South River and Broadneck to win the 4A East region. “When we made that state title run, I was caught off guard when Leonardtown won and had to scramble to find out more about them, but it’s awesome to see more teams challenging the perennial powerhouses.”

A few numbers that stand out heading into the 2018 Baltimore high school girls lacrosse season.

Back in Baltimore City, Dunbar coach Tyesha Clark is excited about having a chance to make a deeper playoff run that could draw more players into her young program. The Poets are the only school in 1A North Section II fielding a girls team this year, but, Reinhard said, they might be combined with the five Baltimore County teams in Section I so they don’t end up with three byes into the regional final.

The Poets had two byes last year into the sectional final before falling, 8-5, to Western Tech. The year before, their first time in the state playoff system, they were overwhelmed, 12-1, by Loch Raven.

Although the Poets will still have Loch Raven in their region, they won’t have a program as strong as Liberty, which beat Western Tech, 24-1, in the regional final and is now in Class 2A.

“This is a good thing for us,” Clark said, “because there are points in the playoffs when you have games like that that are less likely to happen now. The larger schools usually have girls who play on club teams and that presents an advantage. Teams that don’t have that don’t stand a chance. I think this could help us be more competitive and that’s a big part of high school sports.”

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