May 4—The schedule is slimmed down and games are being packed into a shorter period of time, but Howard County girls lacrosse teams will be playing for something tangible this spring.
After last season was canceled before the first official game due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's teams will be guaranteed eight games and the potential to qualify for a season-ending tournament designed to crown a county champion.
The 12 public school teams have been divided up into two divisions. Division A includes Centennial, Glenelg, Howard, Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron and River Hill, while Division B includes Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach, Reservoir, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake.
For the first five games, each squad will play every other team in its division once. Each of the teams in Division A will be seeded Nos. 1-6 based on record, then the final two seeds in the eight-team county tournament will be the top two squads in Division B. The top team will get the seventh seed and the second-best team will be seeded eighth.
The bottom four teams in Division B after the first five games will participate in a four-team round robin.
For now, the quarterfinal round of the county tournament is scheduled for May 21 and the championship will be May 28.
Since 2014, Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron have each won two county titles.
There is still the potential for a regional and state tournament during the month of June, but that will not be determined until a vote by the Maryland Superintendents of Schools on May 18.
With official games set to begin on May 7, here's a look around the county:
Coach: Amy Davis Hall, first season
2019 record: 4-5 county, 9-8 overall
Top players: Seniors Kyleigh Eaton (G), Molly Flynn (MF), Makayla Gravely-Smith (A), Taylor McManus (MF), Christina Min (D) and Autumn Wenstrom (G); junior Kendall Dean (A).
Coach's report: Flynn, Gravely-Smith and Min are all captains and four-year varsity starters, while Eaton also is in her fourth year starting games at goalie. Eaton was a first-team All-County performer in 2019, while Flynn made second team.
There's plenty of potential on attack with Flynn (44 points in 2019), Dean (21) and Gravely-Smith (21) all established performers. Also keep an eye on freshman Hannah McGrath, who is a confident attacker expected to make an immediate impact.
"Our team's strengths this year start with experience, as nine of our starters have been playing together consistently for the past four years. They know each other, look for one another on the field and work well together," Davis Hall said. "We also have a strong defense. Kyleigh Eaton and Autumn Wenstrom are both strong goalies who work well leading the defense. We have a couple firecrackers on attack who will boost us offensively as well."
Coach: Ellen Johnson, first season
2019 record: 6-3, 6-7
Top players: Seniors Louisa Lagera (A) and Nicole Oullette (A); juniors Alaina Kelly (MF) and Lauren Pellegrini (D); sophomore Ava Welsh (G).
Coach's report: Even with the lost season last year, this is an experienced Eagles' group particularly in the scoring department. Lagera (39 goals and 27 assists for 66 points), Kelly (13) and Ouellette (10) all registered double-digit points as underclassmen in 2019.
Throw in a talented five-player sophomore class — Welsh, Abby Cudzilo, Taylor Cheung, Charlotte Pilcher and Gabriella Bieberich — who all were on the varsity roster last year before the season was halted, and there's plenty to be excited about for first-year coach Ellen Johnson.
"I think our strength this year will be in our versatility. We have several players that can excel on any side of the field, so we are excited to try out new combinations and see what works," Johnson said. "I have been so impressed by the athleticism and positivity on our team thus far. Our girls have been preparing since last fall to improve their physical and mental strength and become well-rounded students of the game."
Coach: Nikki Trunzo, fifth season
2019 record: 6-1, 14-4
Top players: Seniors Caitlyn Baehr (MF), Chloe Birkhead (MF), Molly Metz (A) and Anna Towle (D); juniors Emma Kennedy (A), Maura Murphy (MF), Emily Renehan (D) and Jocelyn Torres (G); sophomores Lauren Lapoint (A) and Isa Torres (MF).
Coach's report: The Gladiators have plenty of strong senior leadership to go along with talent up and down the roster. The attack doesn't have a ton proven scorers, but there's plenty of players ready to break out. Sophomores Lapoint and Torres were poised to make immediate impacts as freshmen last spring and should introduce themselves as forces to reckon with right away.
Torres figures to be one of the county's top goalies after starting games as a freshman in 2019. Glenelg lost just one county game between the 2017 and 2019 seasons.
"It's a great group off to a fast start. We are carrying a very large roster of 30, which has really elevated practice intensity," assistant coach Alex Pagnotta said. "We are a very well-balanced athletic team with a lot of depth. Missing a full season makes it difficult to guess how teams are stacking up. We are just excited to finally be playing again."
Coach: Lindsay Kolesar, fourth season
2019 record: 1-4, 5-10
Top players: Seniors Lizzy Hughes (MF), Rachel Osei-Nsafoah (MF), Ama Stott (D) and Jess Williamson (MF); juniors Sarah Quade (D) and Caroline Schreier (MF).
Coach's report: The midfield unit, which includes a pair of experienced seniors in Hughes (19 points in 2019) and Williamson (18) that were among the team leaders in scoring as sophomores, will undoubtedly be a strength for the Golden Bears. Kolesar said she is "expecting to see some great connections and quick transitions" in the middle of the field.
Also keep an eye on a potential breakout campaign from sophomore goalie Mia Addo, who has been making some big stops in practice already.
"As a coaching staff, we are incredibly proud of the leadership, dedication and determination of our players," Kolesar said. "We have a fantastic group of seniors who have shown tremendous growth over the past four years. We are looking forward to a successful season together."
Coach: Katelyn Joyce, fourth season
2019 record: 5-2, 8-7
Top players: Seniors Rachel Murphy (G), Madison Rozgonyi (D) and Ellie Wiechert (MF); junior Sam Brothers (MF); sophomores McKenzie Shakespeare (MF) and Jenna Vetter (A).
Coach's report: The three captains — Brothers, Murphy and Wiechert — have all been starting on varsity since their freshmen seasons. It's no surprise then, with two of the captains playing in the middle of the field, that the team's strength lies in that area.
"Our strength this season is in our midfield," Joyce said. "We have several returning starters at midfield who work well together in every aspect of the game — defensively, in transition and on attack). And our new starters have jumped right up to the challenge."
Wiechert (24 points in 2019) and Brothers (22) are the team's leading returning scorers, with Lily Hume also an established scorer (15).
Coach: Carlie Nethken, second season
2019 record: 3-3, 8-4
Top players: Senior Paige Ditter (MF); freshmen Samantha Babik (MF) and Chiara Pompei (MF).
Coach's report: New faces litter the roster for the Lightning, which lack in varsity experience but have some talented players to build around. Ditter, one of the upperclassmen being counted on to lead, was among the top scorers on JV in 2019 with 24 goals.
"We're a young team, with the majority being underclassmen, so we'll be looking to our upperclassmen for leadership and experience," Nethken said.
As for the newcomers, Nethken says that Pompei "has club experience and great shot placement," while Babik "has speed and good stick skills."
Coach: Amanda Brady, eighth season
2019 record: 7-0, 13-3
Top players: Seniors Lauren Fisher (MF/D), Natalie Held (MF), Morgan Lee (D), Caroline Meininger (D), Maggie Merrill (A) and Lane Schanck (D); juniors Grace Hejeebu (G) and Hayley Lettinga (D); sophomore Maisy Clevenger (MF).
Coach's report: The Mustangs have the most experience on the defensive side of the field, including three seniors. In 2019, Marriotts Ridge averaged just five goals against in county games — second best in the league.
Meininger (11 points in 2019), Held (9) and Merrill (8) are the top returning pieces on offense, but Brady says keep a particular eye on Clevenger. She was poised to be a starter last spring as a freshman and has showcased elite abilities during practices thus far.
Marriotts Ridge is aiming for the program's first back-to-back county titles since 2012 and 2013.
"It's a strange time with being off for two full seasons as a team, anything can happen this season and it will be the girls who put forth a fight in each and every game that determines who comes out on top this year," Brady said.
Coach: Samantha Brookhart, second season
2019 record: 3-4, 9-8
Top players: Seniors Mia Holland (D), Haley Kampert (MF), Skyla Lloyd (G), Michelle Pak (MF) and Ashley Unkenholz (A/MF); juniors Jessie Barke (MF) and Audrey Harrington (A); sophomore Kylie Ritter (D).
Coach's report: There are 10 seniors on the roster, four of whom played as freshmen in 2018 on the Vikings' team that made the state championship game. "I would say leadership is a huge strength of ours," Brookhart said. "My seniors are just ready to bring it. They come out to practice every day playing to prove something."
Unkenholz (43 points), Pak (32), Kampert (18) and Barke (16) were all among the top 60 scorers in Howard County in 2019. Brookhart expects Harrington, junior Peyton Sims and sophomore Kate Webb to join that group of offensive weapons.
Ritter is being counted on to be a great addition defensively, providing strong one-on-one defense and serving as a leader on clears to go along with the established play of Holland in front of Lloyd in goal.
Coach: Jamie Twardowicz, third season
2019 record: 0-5, 5-8
Top players: Seniors Trinh Luu (D), Yasmine Megdiche (MF), Ella Novak (MF), Rebecca Smelkinson (A) and Kylie Tracy (A); sophomores Kaity Browne (MF) and Sara Novak (MF).
Coach's report: Not only do the Scorpions have a large senior class, but those players are spread out across the field. They have a good mix of talented upperclassmen, many of whom were set to be prominent pieces before the season was canceled last spring.
"The team's strength this year is with our senior leadership. We have a good group of girls who can see the field well," Twardowicz said.
Browne is a newcomer to the program, an athletic and fast midfielder expected to immediately contribute, and she joins Novak as part of the team's younger contingent.
Coach: Phillip Ranker, first season
2019 record: 2-7, 2-11
Top players: Seniors Savanna Hill (A), Delaney Miller (D) and Maddie Roberts (G); juniors Jackie Rowell (MF/A) and Kat Thayer (MF/A); sophomore Alex Ripken (MF/A).
Coach's report: The Gators are going to count on a lot of new faces to step into prominent roles, including Ripken as a sophomore to go along with freshmen Taylor Sung and Savannah Gray. But there's also some experienced faces to lean on.
Thayer is the team's leading returning goal scorer (17 goals in 2019) and the combination of Hill and Rowell offer plenty of experience up top as well.
"Between COVID, the shortened and delayed season and some personal decisions, our squad is pretty low in numbers. ... We are focusing on teaching the game and getting some good team building and bonding in," Ranker said. "Our strength this year, in my opinion, is going to be our attack. We have some talented players who can dodge and put the ball in the goal."
Coach: Amy Weinberg, fourth season
2019 record: 3-6, 5-9
Top players: Senior Lindsey Miller (MF); juniors Erin Devine (MF), Molly Maloney (A) and Claire Slade (A); sophomores Callie Thompson (G) and Maddie Vasilios (MF).
Coach's report: The Hawks may have had a losing record in 2019, but this year's roster features plenty of players with a winning athletic pedigree. Devine was part of the Hawks' state championship basketball team in 2018-19, while a handful of other starters were also part of River Hill's recent county championship field hockey squad.
The offense averaged over 12 goals per game in that 2019 campaign and the top three scorers return from that group in Devine (49 points), Maloney (44) and Slade (41).
"Their leadership will guide both offense and defense," Weinberg said. "Our midfielders are scrappy and aggressive anytime the ball is on the ground and in the transition."
The underclassmen contingent has lot of promise as well, with Thompson being counted on to be among those leading the charge defensively as an aggressive goalie. Vasilios and fellow sophomore Ella Ferrer, along with freshman Amelie Deng, will be huge contributors in the midfield. "They are young leaders, tenacious on the field and hungry to start the season," Weinberg said.
Coach: Mike Rhodovi, sixth season
2019 record: 3-4, 7-7
Top players: Seniors Lia Carlesi (MF), Josie Pittman (A) and Bridget Tiffey (D); juniors Kayla Hunter (MF), Safaa Sattar (A) and Sandra Stachel (MF); sophomores Cassie Montgomery (MF) and MinJee Yi (D).
Coach's report: With senior captains Carlesi, Tiffey and Pittman leading the way, leadership has been huge in the early going this spring, according to Rhodovi.
"Due to the shortened season, limited practice numbers, no scrimmages and no playdays to prepare with, we've had the seniors and juniors all acting as player coaches in the everything they do," Rhodovi said. "They are helping each other in not just positivity and enthusiasm but in teaching mechanics and game concepts and theories."
Defense is expected to be an area of strength, including senior Erica Sweitzer stepping up to play goalie this season to go along with senior guidance from Tiffey. Keep an eye on the young core of Montgomery and MinJee as breakout players.
Carlesi (27 points in 2019) and Hunter (21) are the team's top offensive returners.