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: Ricky Hafer, Ben Engleman and goalkeeper Steven Silverberg, not to mention all-time leader in points scored, Sam Burns.

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.”

Sure to fight neck-in-neck with the Patriots is Churchill. The Bulldogs also lost a bevy of talent, including four playing Division I lacrosse: Kyle Hann, Harris Middel, Bertan Unal and Phillip Halls.

But they do have a terrific returning attackman in senior Kyle Cissel, coupled with aggressive senior midfielder Connor Wielgus and talented junior goalkeeper Griffin Farha. Throw in a returning starter in the midfield, Ray Ferrarra, and Churchill has a chance to do what its rivals did a year ago.

‘‘I would absolutely confirm that,” said Bulldogs head coach Jeff Fritz. ‘‘We want to win the division, the region and play for the state championship. We have a lot of leadership at the midfield, so hopefully we’ll be able to control the tempo and flow of games.”

At 7-7, Whitman was not up to its usual standards a year ago. But the Vikings return their standouts from a young squad. Attackman Eric Schneider was the team’s leading goal scorer, and returning goalkeeper Michael Hepp could be one of the top stoppers in the county. Middie Brendan O’Connell is back and should headline the control zone, while sophomore Pat Slawta (brother of former Whitman great Kevin Slawta) will add scoring punch to the attack.

‘‘I’ll tell you, we have a good mix of experience and youth,” said Whitman head coach Kevin Pope. ‘‘I think we’ll be back. We should be in every game, and after that, it all depends on how the cookie crumbles.”

A darkhorse to climb to the top of the county ranks this season is Walter Johnson, which also returns standouts from a 10-4 team a year ago. Back is fantastic attackman Ross Modjeska, who tied for the league lead with 55 goals, and one of the county’s top netminders, Ryan Ulf. Faceoff specialist Daniel Cohen also returns for the Wildcats, who lost by a single goal to the Patriots a year ago.

‘‘I don’t think about how good I expect us to be this year,” said head coach Jon Mayer. ‘‘I am more focused on making sure that we’re working hard so that we’re prepared to perform at our best once the season starts.”

Despite being banged up a year ago, Bethesda-Chevy Chase finished a respectable 7-6. In what head coach Alan Pohoryles calls ‘‘the most talented starting 10 I’ve ever had,” the Barons feature senior attackman Christian Cobb, who will be the team’s go-to guy on the offensive end. Goalie John Goldberg is a gem in net and junior Gus Vida is a budding star in the midfield.

‘‘We plan on contending for the division title,” said Pohoryles. ‘‘In addition to our tough division, we play a difficult out-of-division schedule including Quince Orchard, Rockville, St. John’s (Frederick), The Heights and Poolesville. No easy wins on our schedule; I think that will help make us a better team.”

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.”

Rockville also went .500, 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.

Then of course, there are the private-school teams, starting with The Heights. At the helm is a familiar face in an unfamiliar place, longtime Springbrook head coach Mark Pim. The Cavaliers’ season started with victories over Bishop McNamara and Sidwell Friends and a close loss to Palotti. They should contend for a Maryland Independent Lacrosse League title thanks to several big, strong attackers: Gettysburg (Pa.) signee James Patterson and McDaniel commit Bobby Coward. Throw in Holy Cross commit A.J. Guarente at midfield and there’s much reason for optimism.

‘‘This team is very deep,” said Pim. ‘‘Beating Sidwell is big, because my understanding is we’d lost to them the last four years by one goal. I had a great team last year obviously at Springbrook; this team might not have as much size but has a little more speed.”

Georgetown Prep is no longer the unquestioned top dog, with St. Stephen’s-St. Agnes (Va.) ending its quest for a third-straight Interstate Athletic Conference title and a 48-game winning streak last spring. The Little Hoyas are 7-2, more losses than they’ve had in almost three years. But a young cast led by standout goalkeeper John Kemp and attackman Brian Casey still may be the team to beat in the Interstate Athletic Conference.

Landon should also be in the hunt for the IAC crown, seeking to return to its once-dominant ways. The Bears are 5-3, but are dangerous thanks in large part to one of the best goalies in America, senior C.T. Fisher, and senior attackman Mike Grossman.

Bullis looks to catapult into that elite class. With All-Gazette midfielder Brian Will (31 goals, 17 assists) back in the fold, his brother, Andy Will, and diminutive yet dynamic attackman Mookie Allen, the Bulldogs aren’t as deep as Landon or Prep, but have top-level talent just like either IAC rival.

‘‘We’re never a deep team,” said Bullis head coach Mike DelGrande, ‘‘but I feel our starters are as good as teams we compete against. We’re going to need to be unselfish to be good.”

Fast Facts

B-CC Barons

Head coach: Alan Pohoryles, 7th year

Last year’s record: 7-6

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Christian Cobb (Sr., A), Gus Vida (Jr., M)

Bullis Bulldogs

Head coach: Mike DelGrande, 19th year

Last year’s record: N⁄A

League affiliation: Interstate Athletic Conference

Players to watch: Brian Will (Sr., M), Mookie Allen (Jr., A)

Churchill Bulldogs

Head coach: Jeff Fritz, 15th year

Last year’s record: 11-3

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Kyle Sissel (Sr., A), Connor Wielgus (Sr., M)

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)

Georgetown Prep Little Hoyas

Head coach: Kevin Giblin, 21st year

Last year’s record: 20-1

League affiliation: Interstate Athletic Conference

Players to watch: John Kemp (Jr., G), Brian Casey (Jr., A)

The Heights Cavaliers

Head coach: Mark Pim, 1st year

Last year’s record: 9-10

League affiliation: Maryland Independent Lacrosse League

Players to watch: James Patterson (Sr., A), A.J. Guarente (Sr., M)

Landon Bears

Head coach: Rob Bordley, 31th year

Last year’s record: 15-5

League affiliation: Interstate Athletic Conference

Players to watch: Charles Fisher (Sr., G), Mike Grossman (Sr., A)

Quince Orchard Cougars

Head coach: Mike Kowalick, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 7-7

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A North

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

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)

Walter Johnson Wildcats

Head coach: Jon Mayer, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 10-6

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Ross Modjeska (Sr., M), Ryan Ulf (Sr., G)

Whitman Vikings

Head coach: Kevin Pope, 11th year

Last year’s record: 8-8

League affiliation: Montgomery 4A⁄3A West

Players to watch: Eric Schneider (Sr., A), Brendan O’Connell (Sr., 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)