Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Better late than never for new-look Prep lacrosse

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For people used to seeing the status quo — a dominant Georgetown Prep boys lacrosse team — the first half of its game against Baltimore County’s St. Paul’s must have looked like Bizarro World. The host Little Hoyas, who averaged 11.5 goals per game a year ago, were scoreless for nearly two full quarters Friday in North Bethesda.

But the S on their chests — actually, the GP — eventually returned in typical fashion.

With Prep down 2-0 with just 15 seconds left in the half, junior attackman Sean Taylor rocketed in a shot to get his team on the board. The Little Hoyas scored the next three unanswered goals in a two-minute span of the third quarter, pointing the way to a 6-3 victory.

The defense was fantastic throughout, sparked by saves from junior goalkeeper John Kemp. But head coach Kevin Giblin couldn’t recall being shut out for so long in his 21 years at the helm.

‘‘I honestly don’t know; I can’t remember it,” he said. ‘‘Goals are hard to come by, brother. But you know what? This is a big win. We needed this win after some tough losses.”

It goes without saying that Prep (7-2 overall) is not the same team that had won 49 of its last 50 games prior to this season. With defeats to Gilman and Garden City (N.Y.) the week prior, the Little Hoyas had lost more in a 72-hour span than in almost three years.

But the lack of jawdropping talent is the main difference this year. While this Prep team should still be very good, and certainly contend for the Interstate Athletic Conference title, it won’t be able to bully teams like they did not long ago. Reigning Gazette Player of the Year Ryan Shuler — listed as the top-ranked recruit in the county a year ago by — is at Georgetown University, as is face-off specialist Brian Tabb.

Lockdown defender Bray Malphrus is starting at Virginia; fellow All-Gazette first-team defender Kevin Ridgway is at Notre Dame. The team’s leading goal-scorer from a year ago, attackman Stephen Coyle (53 goals), is at Duke.

Junior attackman Brian Casey, who started last year, will have to fill some big shoes on the offensive end. He was the team’s most explosive threat Friday, scoring three second-half goals and logging a timely assist to midfielder Kevin McCormick after St. Paul’s (1-4) had cut the Little Hoyas’ lead to 5-3 with just over six minutes to go. He also tied the game, converting a textbook pass from junior attackman Billy Gribbin early in the third quarter, and scored on a breakaway two minutes later.

‘‘Now that Shuler and Coyle are gone, I know I’ve got to step it up a little bit,” said Casey. ‘‘We’re young overall, but we’re bonding as a team.”

The offense also features two speed merchants, Taylor and junior midfielder Max Hart (one goal Friday), as well as attackman Dan O’Brien (two assists).

Their potential is evident, but games like Friday’s may not be uncommon in the next few weeks. Unlike previous years when Prep was dominant right off the bat, it may take some time with this unit.

‘‘I think we need some seasoning,” said Giblin. ‘‘Some of these guys are starting to figure this thing out. When we figure it out, I think we’ve got enough players out there that this can be a good team.”