Wednesday, April 2, 2008

County’s the cradle of up-and-comers

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
James Bitondi (8) and Good Counsel look to make some noise in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
For the most part, lacrosse in Montgomery County has been dominated by schools within about a 10-mile radius of Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville. The teams regularly contending for division and regional titles are the same: Wootton, Churchill, Whitman and Walter Johnson. Even the county’s best private school teams — Bullis, Georgetown Prep and Landon — are located in that area.

But there is indeed good lacrosse being played at schools outside that small sector, many of which appear good bets to be better than they were a year ago, and maybe even worth mentioning in the same breath as the usual elite.

A year ago, Springbrook was one of those teams. Finishing 13-2, the Blue Devils set a team record for wins in one season. Their thrilling 11-10, come-from-behind victory over Churchill in the 4A-3A West Region semifinals officially put them in the county’s elite, with their regional final appearance being as far as they’d ever advanced in the playoffs.

Unfortunately for them, the Blue Devils will be nothing like they were a year ago. That’s not to say they can’t finish with the same record, or even better, but all the familiar faces are gone. The only head coach in the varsity program’s 11-year history, Mark Pim, stepped down and resurfaced at The Heights. And almost their entire core group graduated, including All-Gazette first-team midfielder Ben Simmons, attackmen Adam Brizendine and Tim Roe and midfielder David Abramson, who combined for well over 250 points a year ago.

It would be a tough repeat performance, now coached by Darren Murray, who played on Springbrook’s first-ever varsity lacrosse team in 1997. They will depend heavily on attackman Mike Winogradoff, who scored over 20 goals a season ago. And the rest of the cast will feature several multi-sport athletes, such as senior wrestler⁄football player Carlo Galeano.

‘‘We also have Carlo’s brother, Joe, and David Abramson’s younger brother, Alex — so a lot of kids are being thrown into a major role where they were used to watching from the sidelines a year ago,” said Murray. ‘‘But we need to approach every year like last year. The ultimate goal is to be even more effective than last year.”

There is no reason that the Blue Devils’ Northeast Consortium rival, Paint Branch, wouldn’t contend to go where Springbrook did a year ago. The Panthers return nearly 85 percent of their offensive output from a year ago, and return some of the best athletes that will be seen in the county all year. Senior attackman Tristan Alleyne was a superb playmaker a year ago, good enough that he earned a scholarship to play Division I lacrosse at Robert Morris (Pa.) University. He was also quick enough to scamper for over 1,000 yards on the gridiron this fall, and will be flanked by another dangerous speedster who found success on the gridiron, senior Rocco Percivalle (committed to Robert Morris on a football scholarship).

Other multi-sport athletes, All-Gazette first-team wrestler and lacrosse midfielder Steve Miller (over 20 goals a year ago) and linebacker-turned-defender Jake Maddox are also extremely skilled, not to mention experienced. They all add up to what could be one of the better teams the Panthers have ever fielded.

‘‘You know in our playoff loss to Whitman, we outshot them 35-21, but we just couldn’t shoot,” said Paint Branch head coach Kevin Eagan. ‘‘This year, we know what we’re doing. Our handling has been much better than we’ve ever handled it, and we can really swing the ball around.”

Similarly, Sherwood shouldn’t just be better in 2008, it should compete for a division title. While the Warriors lost some talent, including standout midfielders Garrett and Steven Anderson (school’s all-time assist leader), they return a force in attackman Kyle Johnson, who led the team with 31 goals last year. Also back is goalkeeper Matt Prin, who should be one of the premier stoppers in the county, as well as returning starter Alex Steel on the back line.

‘‘I think, number one, we’re always competing for the division title,” said Sherwood head coach Drew Offutt. ‘‘We’ll take it from there. According to laxpower.com, last year we led the state in one-goal losses with six, so the key this year is to finish. We’ve got to close the door when we’re up one in the fourth quarter.”

Kennedy hopes to raise the bar this spring, and head coach David Heiney-Gonzalez feels like the time to do so is here. His team finished 8-6 a year ago, the first time in school history that the Cavaliers have finished over .500. They return captain Mike Collier on a senior-laden team, which also features a superb midfielder in four-year starter Alex Yewdell, and defender Nadir Mechairia.

‘‘We had four or five players selected All-Division last year, and with our record, we did exceed expectations at the end of the year,” said Hainey-Gonzalez. ‘‘But this year, there’s a whole lot more expectations.”

The Cavaliers also beat Blair for the first time in their school’s history, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise solid season for the Blazers. Blair did suffer a huge loss in goalkeeper Robbie Ginsburg, but returns most of its defense, anchored by two-time all-division defender Andy Holmes. The Blazers also return their leading goal-scorer, junior attackman Mike Mozer, and playmaking senior midfielder Jamie Binns.

‘‘Our schedule got kicked up a notch this season, so it is going to be difficult to match the success of last season,” said Blair head coach Bob Gibb. ‘‘If we can come together as a team like we did last year, and avoid major injuries, we have a chance to be competitive with every team we play.”

Rockville went .500 a year ago, with expectations to supercede that this spring. Senior attack Zach Tresker will be a force offensively, as returning starter Justin Yin could be on the defensive end.

‘‘I asked everyone on the team for three goals,” said first-year Rockville head coach James Hernandez, ‘‘and almost everybody said they wanted to beat their record of last year, first. I think we have the potential to go past the first round of the playoffs this year, definitely the second and maybe even the finals.”

Einstein may not have such lofty expectations, as it won just two games a year ago. The Titans do return three key contributors from a year ago: senior attackman Brock McBride and junior middie Phavann Kredell — both four-year players — and junior defender Michael Bowrin. They also have a large back line, anchored by 6-foot-4, 250-pound Danny Fuentes.

‘‘We have actually most of our experience on defense,” said Einstein head coach Jay Andrews. We’re hoping our defense carries us through the first part of the season.”

Fast Facts

Blair Blazers

Head coach: Bob Gibb, 10th year

Last year’s record: 8-5

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Mike Mozer (Jr., A), Andy Holmes (Jr., D)

Einstein Titans

Head coach: Jay Andrews, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 2-11

League affiliation: Montgomery 3A⁄2A⁄1A

Players to watch: Brock McBride (Sr., A), Phavann Kredell (Jr., M)

Kennedy Cavaliers

Head coach: David Heiney-Gonzalez, 5th year

Last year’s record: 8-6

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Alex Yewdell (Sr., M), Nadir Mechairia. (Jr., D)

Paint Branch Panthers

Head coach: Kevin Eagan, 9th year

Last year’s record: 8-5

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Tristan Alleyne (Sr., A), Rocco Perciavalle (Sr., M)

Rockville Rams

Head coach: James Hernandez, 1st year

Last year’s record: 7-7

League affiliation: Montgomery 3A⁄2A⁄1A

Players to watch: Zach Tresker (Sr., A), Justin Tin (D)

Sherwood Warriors

Head coach: Drew Offut, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 7-9

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Kyle Johnson (Jr., A), Matt Prin (Sr., G)

Springbrook Blue Devils

Head coach: Darren Murray, 1st year

Last year’s record: 13-2

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Mike Winogradoff (Sr., A), Carlo Galeano (Sr., M)