Wednesday, April 2, 2008

With JV, will county’s girls look state-ly?

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Junior-varsity lacrosse has arrived in Montgomery County, and the girls varsity coaches are rejoicing.

‘‘It’s amazing,” Gaithersburg High coach Michelle Lewis said. ‘‘I’m still refining basics with the varsity players, but I am not teaching the basic skills anymore. We kept only 20 kids [on varsity, as opposed to 30 last year], but now we have more depth. All these players have the fundamentals.”

In fact, at many programs across Montgomery County, the advent of the junior-varsity program has encouraged more players to come out for lacrosse. The intimidation factor of trying out a new sport on the varsity level has disappeared.

‘‘This is going to help us in the long term,” Blair’s Mike Horne said. ‘‘We’ll get a lot more kids involved in the program. We already saw a good turnout among the sophomore class this year.”

The goal is that the junior varsity will feed and replenish the varsity ranks, not only at the stronger programs in the county, but in the traditionally weaker ones as well. And, while the advent of JV may help Montgomery County compete on a state level — no team has won a state semifinal game, let alone a state title — it may also bring parity to county competition as a whole.

‘‘The girls now have time to learn,” Wheaton coach Lauren Mincher said. ‘‘We have a chance to make JV a stepping stone to develop skilled players. There is still a gap, but this might help us close it.”

One gap that Blake hopes to close is the one between it and the elite teams in the state. In each of the last two years, the Bengals have won the 4A-3A West Region title, but lost the state semifinals. They hope to get back there, but will have to do without the trio of Molly Wannen, Sammy Allen and Kelly Arguero, all of whom have graduated.

‘‘It’s always our goal to move forward,” coach Christine Denny said. ‘‘We have some strong younger players that we expect to fill in.”

Junior Molly Donaghue will take over for Arguero in goal, while Ashley Martin and Nicky Wannen will lead the attack. Senior Ella Branson will anchor the defense.

‘‘Each year is different,” Denny said. ‘‘Winning in the past can be intimidating for new players, but we are going to keep stressing that this is a new year. Hopefully, we can keep focused on our goals as the season goes on.”

Sherwood is trying to get rid of its bridesmaid status. In each of the last three years, it has advanced to the 4A-3A West Region final before losing. The Warriors would like to get to the state level, but they aren’t going to dismiss enjoying the season in the process.

‘‘Last year we had a good team but we just did not jell,” coach Mitch Rosenfeld said. ‘‘This year, despite some youth and inexperience, we are much more together.”

The catalyst on the offense will be senior attacker Liz Kubis. Seniors Whitney Kendall and Sam Stewart will drop back to the defensive end to stabilize the Warriors’ inexperience there. Four sophomores and a freshman will start.

‘‘We’re young,” Rosenfeld said.

Another team hoping to take a step forward is Magruder, which is in its third year with coach Kate Hilton at the helm. She feels like the process of molding the team to her style has taken a leap forward.

‘‘I’ve had most of these girls since they were sophomores,” Hilton said. ‘‘And, this year, we have added some freshmen that can get out on the field and play.”

Three seniors, attacker Kiki Sackett, midfielder Ashley Boyle and defender Elise Ruland, are captains, and their presence on the field should help the mix of youth and experience. Everyone is expected to chip in.

‘‘We’re keeping a small roster,” Hilton said. ‘‘They’re all going to play.”

At Rockville, first-year coach Tamika Jancewicz inherits a team that has been on the rise over the past two seasons. She played lacrosse at Messiah (Pa.) College and then stayed in the state to coach before coming to Montgomery County and feels ready to keep the upward trend going.

‘‘There is a larger demand for lacrosse in this state, which is cool,” she said. ‘‘The transition here has been a work in progress, but I see that the girls are excited at the progress they have made.”

The Rams suffered heavy losses to graduation, and return just 15 players that saw time last year, but among them are captains Mary Gorman and Danielle Durham, who could be the most pivotal links to their success.

‘‘They aren’t beginners anymore,” Jancewicz said. ‘‘Their skill level has improved.”

Neighborhood rivals Blair and Northwood have different goals this season. The Blazers are hoping to build on the success they had at the end of last year, when they won four of their final six games. Attacker Helen Anderson and midfielder Rachita Sood are should spur the offense, while defender Lizzie Horne controls the back line.

‘‘We have a good mix of youth and experience,” Horne said. ‘‘We are looking to take a step forward.”

Northwood, on the other hand, is looking for wins in general. The Gladiators’ first season in the varsity ranks was winless, but expect Year 2 to be better. Goalie Corinne Nicholson and midfielder Brittany Spear, both juniors, add some experience.

‘‘Our chemistry is already better than it was last year,” Parsons said. ‘‘We should be able to pull some out.”

Springbrook has a new coach in Katie Simmons, a 2003 graduate who played at Salisbury State, and has returned to find the sport blossoming at the school.

‘‘It’s pretty awesome,” she said. ‘‘Lacrosse was not like this when I was here. It is much more popular and diverse.”

Though the Blue Devils graduated leading scorer Lauren Kessler, they return seniors Shannon Conley and Kristin Pena, who should be able to put the ball in the net. Senior center Kelsey Whitman should also contribute.

At Wheaton, Mincher has a rebuilding project on her hands, but comes in with experience. She played at state powerhouse Annapolis High and then Duquesne (Pa.) University, and coached in England for three years.

‘‘It was a little surprising,” she said. ‘‘At our first practice, I found that we had one girl that had played lacrosse before high school. But I see a lot of potential in these girls.”

Senior Kim Taylor will lead the team from the center position, and junior Gabriella Soriano will be counted on for the attack. Marilyn Romero has found her place on defense.

‘‘She’s the toughest one,” Mincher said. ‘‘She’s figured that you have to be loud and tough to get the ball back.”

In the private-school realm, Good Counsel and Holy Cross will tussle for top honors in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference again this season. Last year, the Falcons and Tartans were the league’s top two teams, with Good Counsel coming out on top in a hard-fought WCAC tournament final. The four-time defending champions graduated several players, including leading scorer Ashley Stodter, but bring back several young players, including sophomore Shannon Lechner, to provide a boost. In addition, seniors Whitney Eagleson and Mary Swarthout have plenty of experience.

‘‘We’re young, but we are learning,” Good Counsel coach Mike Haight said. ‘‘We just recently gave the players positions, but we want everyone to be able to play everywhere.”

The Falcons will get a challenge from Holy Cross this season. Though leading scorer Kristen Coleman is gone, junior Hayley Katzenberger and senior Grace Dinn return to a deep team that is not only looking to avenge a loss in the WCAC final a year ago, but snap the Falcons’ 38-game in-league winning streak in the process.

Fast Facts

Blair Blazers

Head coach: Mike Horne, 10th year

Last year’s record: 5-7

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Helen Anderson (Sr., A), Rachita Sood (Sr., M), Lizzie Horne (Jr., D), Katelyn Luker (Jr., GK)

Blake Bengals

Head coach: Christine Denny, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 14-2, 4A-3A West Region champions

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Kelly Donaghue (Jr., GK), Ashley Martin (Soph., A), Ella Branson (Sr., D), Nicky Wannen (Jr., M)

Good Counsel Falcons

Head coach: Mike Haight, 7th year

Last year’s record: 20-3-1, WCAC champions

League affiliation: Washington Catholic Athletic Conference

Players to watch: Mary Swarthout (Sr., M), Whitney Eagleson (Sr., A), Shannon Lechner (Soph., M)

Holy Cross Tartans

Head coach: Susan Decker, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 17-2

League affiliation: Washington Catholic Athletic Conference

Players to watch: Haley Katzenberger (Jr., C), Katie Delaney (Sr., A), Grace Dinn (Sr., D)

Magruder Colonels

Head coach: Kate Hilton, 3rd year

Last year’s record: 6-6

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Kiki Sackett (Sr., A), Ashley Boyle (Sr., M), Elise Ruland (Sr., D)

Northwood Gladiators

Head coach: Katie Parsons, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 0-11

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

Players to watch: Corinne Nicholson (Jr., GK), Brittany Spear (Jr., C⁄M)

Paint Branch Panthers

Head coach: Katie Johnson, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 3-8

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Sara Mayes (Sr., A), Sarah Magid (Sr., A), Kara Berger (Sr., D)

Sherwood Warriors

Head coach: Mitch Rosenfeld, 6th year

Last year’s record: 10-5

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Liz Kubis (Sr., A), Liz Combs (Jr., M), Whitney Kendall (Sr., D), Sam Stewart (Sr., M⁄D)

Springbrook Blue Devils

Head coach: Katie Simmons, 1st year

Last year’s record: 7-5

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A East

Players to watch: Shannon Conley (Sr., M), Kristin Pena (Sr., A), Kelsey Whitman (Jr., C)