Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wootton’s success breeds county hope

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Wootton suffered plenty of graduation losses from its historic state-final team last season, but defender Tommy Whitlock is one of a number of strong returnees hoping to lead the Patriots back to the promised land.
It’s a new era in Montgomery County for boys lacrosse. With Wootton’s trek all the way to the Class 4A state championship game — the first time a county team had ever gone so far in 10 years of playing the sport on the varsity level — suddenly, there’s a realistic shot for several of the top squads to exceed all previous expectations.

It won’t be easy for Wootton to do so, however. Certainly not after what it did last year.

Forget that the Patriots went unbeaten during the regular season and won a school-record 16 games, including the record-breaking 9-7 victory over Baltimore County’s Dulaney in the 4A-3A state semifinals last May. What should make it hard to duplicate last season’s accomplishment is the laundry list of standout players that are gone.

Lost are three All-Gazette first-team performers: attackman Ricky Hafer (37 goals, 48 assists), midfielder Ben Engleman (52 points) and goalkeeper Steven Silverberg (led county in save percentage), not to mention their all-time leader in points scored, attackman Sam Burns (58 goals a year ago). Also gone are players whose contributions were loud, though often went unnoticed, including midfielders Jon Yates (27 goals, 12 assists) and attackman Richard Kent (31, 12).

And yet, big things will still be expected from the top dogs. Though the Patriots’ offense is almost entirely new, save for senior midfielder Jordan Montesano (11 goals, 25 assists), their entire back line returns. Senior Tommy Whitlock could be one of the best defenders in the county, while returning starters Brendan Ray and Mike Greenberg will round out a potentially impenetrable defense.

‘‘I expect pretty much the same as always,” said Wootton head coach Colin Thompson, the 2007 Gazette Coach of the Year. ‘‘That’s been pretty consistent. Obviously, our learning curve is definitely accelerated because we’ve got a lot of guys at new positions. But I still we’ve got a really good team.”

Seneca Valley should still be a really good team after a 13-win 2007 campaign, despite a pair of equally big graduation losses. First-team All-Gazette midfielder Tim Kovack was the team’s primary offensive creator, scoring 53 points, and goalkeeper Ryan Milford was a four-year starter.

The talent is not too depleted though, especially in the back line, with stalwart defensive standouts Jamal Stephenson and Mike Kiriakou, both returning starters. Throw in third-year starter Connor Benson at long pole, and the Eagles have three stoppers over 200 pounds. Offensively, they get over 20 goals back in attackman Kyle Borsody and his freshman brother, Drew.

‘‘This year will be more of a tempo-control year,” said Seneca Valley head coach Mike Ricucci. ‘‘We’re definitely not as explosive as we were last year, a little green up front. But on the defensive end, we’re all over the place.”

Rival Damascus is coached by a Seneca Valley alum and former Eagles girls lacrosse coach Kevin Piroozmand, a teammate of Riccucci in high school and business partner with Upper 90 Lacrosse, which serves youth athletes across the county. The Hornets return 10 seniors, including senior attackman Dylan Zablocki and senior middie Brian Yost.

‘‘When I first came into the program, the first thing I asked was what they asked out of the program,” said Piroozmand. ‘‘They said, we wanted players and we want to win. The last couple years, we’ve had a lot of good athletes and good talent, but no organization. Hopefully, my coaching staff brings organization to the table, and the kids can bring success back. I honestly believe we can win out the entire season.”

Quince Orchard finished .500 a year ago, but like Damascus, figures to be even better in 2008. Attackman Sam Mele leads an athletic front-line, and will be flanked by promising freshman Sam King, who was recruited by Bullis. Strong lefty Eric Simon is called ‘‘a potential superstar” by head coach Mike Kowalick, and goalie Adam Bock is a four-year starter.

‘‘We are definitely a better team this year than last year,” said Kowalick. ‘‘Especially defensively, I feel we’re very strong. We played a scrimmage with Urbana and our defense looked really good.”

Expect Gaithersburg to be better than a year ago as well, even after a 14-win season. With All-Gazette junior attackman Bennett Cord back, the Trojans feature the county’s 2007 scoring leader (52 goals, 39 assists). They also return their team leader in middie Trevor Curtin and Cord’s brother and face-off specialist, Derek.

‘‘Realistic goals: winning the division,” said Gaithersburg head coach Matt Duffy, ‘‘and maybe the region.”

Watkins Mill looks to return to respectability after a 5-11 campaign a year ago. Though they lost pint-sized powerhouse attackman Grant Kaleikau (17 goals), they return several starters, including junior defender Nick Anderson, junior midfielders Richardo Camacho and Brian Ratliff, and sophomore attackman Michael Rusnak. With a solid core not so dependent on one standout (Kaleikau), the Wolverines look to be a more versatile team in 2007.

‘‘Last year’s team was focused around an individual player,” said first-year head coach Patrick La Vay. ‘‘This season we will spread our talent and play every game to win, regardless of our opponent. I expect us to be competitive with every team on our schedule. Pre-season scrimmages showed us that we can play with anyone.”

Clarksburg learned the ropes in its debut school year, finishing 2-11. But the whole team is back, literally, with not a single senior on the roster a season ago. Among the Coyotes’ many returnees are senior attackman⁄midfielder Charlie Lindoerfer (38 points), sophomore attackmen⁄middies Zach Hills (30) and Bryce Apple (28), and senior middie Andy Civetti.

‘‘We hope to compete for the division championship,” said Clarksburg head coach Curtiss Belcher. ‘‘Our first six games are all division games, so our division championship will be decided by mid-April.”

Fast Facts

Clarksburg Coyotes

Head coach: Curtiss Belcher, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 2-11

League affilation: Montgomery 3AŽ2AŽ1A

Players to watch: Andy Civetti (Sr., M), Charlie Lindoerfer (Sr., A)

Damascus Swarmin’Hornets

Head coach: Kevin Piroozmand, 1st year

Last year’s record: 7-9

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A North

Players to watch: Brian Yost (Sr., M), Dylan Zablocki (Sr., A)

Quince Orchard Cougars

Head coach: Mike Kowalick, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 7-7

League affiliation: 4A⁄3A North

Players to watch: Sam Mele (Sr., A), Adam Bock (Sr., G)

Seneca ValleyScreaming Eagles

Head coach: Mike Ricucci, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 13-2

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A North

Players to watch: Kyle Borsody (Sr., A), Jamal Stephenson (Sr., D)

Watkins Mill Wolverines

Head coach: Patrick La Vay, 1st year

Last year’s record: 5-11

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A North

Players to watch: Nick Anderson (Jr., D), Richardo Camacho (Jr., M)

Wootton Patriots

Head coach: Colin Thomson, 7th year

Last year’s record: 18-1

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Tommy Whitlock (Sr., D), Jordan Montesano (Sr., M)