Photo by Colin MurphyNortheast's Ryan Nappier and Tanner Bishop celebrated after a slick goal against North County in which Nappier quick-sticked a pass across the face of the goal to Bishop, who one-timed it home. The Eagles won 16-2 and are 5-3 on the season.
New Era: Northeast Boys Are Writing Their Own Script
Everyone who follows boys lacrosse in Anne Arundel County did a double take upon seeing the final scores on April 3 and coming across this one in particular: Northeast 10, South River 8.
Consider the history. The Seahawks have made the 4A state tournament in six of the last seven seasons, and they won state championships in 2012 and 2014. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons. Northeast had not beaten South River in boys lacrosse in at least the last 16 seasons (incomplete records going back further do not show an Eagle victory over South River as having ever occurred).
None of that mattered on April 3. Northeast went to Edgewater, overcame a 5-3 halftime deficit, got hat tricks by Seth Camphouse and Brennan McConnell, two goals by Josh Schelfe and goals by Logan Bishop and Tanner Buras to upend the Seahawks on their home turf. Two assists each by Bishop, McConnell and Schelfe and another by Joey Niles helped Northeast’s offense rise to the occasion, while goalkeeper Pat Martinek recorded 11 saves to counterbalance a 17-8 South River faceoff advantage and help seal the momentous victory.
“As a team, everyone was so excited. None of us have ever beaten South River, so it was really big for the seniors,” said Martinek, a junior captain who noted a focused halftime talk by assistant coaches Donovan Lange and Patrick Teubner. “We went into the game thinking we had a chance. Our team is solid this year, and we have a lot of really good offensive players, and we’re playing solid on defense. We just played our hardest, and in the end, we just got ‘em.”
Senior captain defenseman Zach Alexander said the team played without the burden of expectation. “We went into the game with the idea that everyone expected us to lose, and we had nothing to lose,” he said. “Most of the team was in disbelief that we just beat South River, and everyone was really excited.”
While they may have momentarily shocked even themselves with their feat, the overarching sentiment coursing through the 2017 Eagles is one of confidence. The team is heavy on seniors with 15, and third-year head coach Walt Blahut has the benefit of older players who are now familiar with the system.
“It was expected that we would be much better than last year, but it just played out that we got a nice win against South River,” said Blahut. “The kids are really working hard, they’re all positive, their expectations are very high, and it’s just a matter of how they’re going to execute in games.”
Game execution has been bolstered by a deep and talented offense that plays fast, and wins have followed. The team torched Meade 23-0 to open the season, and on March 24, they hung admirably with reigning 4A state champion and undefeated top-dog Severna Park (8-0 through April 17) before falling to the Falcons 16-9. McConnell and Camphouse had hat tricks against the Falcons, while Ryan Nappier had two goals and Buras added another, and Martinek had 16 saves. In a 16-14 win over Old Mill on March 31, Camphouse had five goals, McConnell had four and Bishop had three while Schelfe had six assists, Bishop added three assists and Martinek made 12 saves. The Eagles subsequently posted a 16-2 win over North County on April 7 and a 16-10 win over Chopticon over spring break on April 12.
In addition to holding South River to eight goals, the defense of Alexander, senior Justin Talley, junior Brandon Choinski and sophomore Matt Anderson played well in a 7-6 loss at North Harford on March 29 and again in a 7-6 loss to Glenelg on April 11. Senior midfielders Troy McNeil and Vince Umali have both played well up and down the field. Blahut said defense is an area where the team can improve but that “it helps when you have probably the best goalie in the county,” in Martinek, who can erase defensive mistakes and has recorded double-digit saves in six of the team’s eight games.
Still, at 5-3, the team has already equaled last year’s win total, and it has its sights set high to contend for the county, region and state.
“We want to be the best in the county right now,” said Martinek. “If we can get a rematch with Severna Park, that would be wonderful. We really think we can beat them, and we think we’re one of the best teams in the county right now.”
Blahut knows that teams like Broadneck, Arundel, Southern and Annapolis will have something to say about that, but he believes this team has the potential to make a deep run come playoff time. Blahut coached the program to the state semifinals in 2007 and into the region final in 2008 and said this year’s group can aspire to the same level or further.
“We haven’t done anything yet as far as I’m concerned and as far as they’re concerned,” he said. “Their success is going to show in the playoffs at the end of the season. We’ve got a goal to be in the county championship. That’s our goal to be in at the end of the season. So that’s the first goal. It’s right there for us. We’ve got teams in front of us we have to beat.”
Martinek said the team’s offseason preparation and intensified work ethic has paid dividends, as a lot of individual players have made leaps in their ability. Alexander, a senior, said that while the team’s goal is to win the state championship, it has been satisfying to be a part of a transforming program.
“To be able to see how this program has progressed is amazing, and you can see the change in skill and mentality as the players get older,” he said. “The difference between this year and previous years is that everyone has grown up playing lacrosse together. In previous years, the team was split between grades, and not everyone had played together before. This year, we have about 16 seniors out of 26 players. Even the players who aren't seniors have played on the same youth teams and out-of-season teams. Everyone on the team is really close too.”