Here is what I remember about May 15, 2000: It was a sunny afternoon when I entered Centennial High School's stadium with my notebook in one pocket, a cassette recorder and pen in the other. The bleachers were beginning to fill with spectators as 3:30 grew closer. Now, almost five years later, I have a confession: I have never felt more out of place.
I stared at the girls on the field who were flinging baseball-size rubber balls with sticks that had webbed pouches on them. You don't recognize those pieces of equipment when you grow up in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Atlanta, as I did.
In the four seasons since 2000, Mount Hebron has lost just one game. Above, Mount Hebron midfielder Melissa McCarthy, center, loses the ball as Centennial's Ashley Evans, left, pursues during a face-off May 15, 2000, between the Ellicott City rivals. Final score: Mount Hebron 21, Centennial 6.
(Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
Lacrosse? I remember playing in a youth soccer tournament in La Crosse, Wis., when I was in elementary school. But as I sat down in the stands -- next to my editor, no less -- to cover a Maryland 3A/2A/1A South Region semifinal between Centennial and Mount Hebron, I was hoping that the story I would write would also keep me employed.
Don't get me wrong: I tried to prepare myself to cover a sport I had never seen. My research revealed that this Mount Hebron was pretty darn good at the sport. It had won three consecutive state titles and had not lost since 1996. Centennial wasn't bad either. The Eagles were 9-4 -- and, considering that their school was less than two miles from Mount Hebron, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they were Ellicott City rivals.
Still, I was worried. Imagine not knowing anything about football and then your first assignment is to cover a playoff game between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. When I went to high school in Marietta, Ga., in the mid-1990s, lacrosse was as prevalent as, say, curling. Lacrosse highlights were not on SportsCenter, and I don't think I had ever seen a lacrosse stick at a sporting goods store until I moved to Maryland.
The game starts. Here we go. This is going to be interesting.
What I witnessed in the next two hours left quite an impression. I'd covered good high school teams in other sports -- and other states -- but I still can't tell you the last time I saw one played with such machinelike precision in the postseason as Mount Hebron did that day. Its players whipped the ball all over the field, connecting with teammates in full stride and driving the ball into whatever part of the goal they wanted.
Final: Mount Hebron 21, Centennial 6. Luckily for me, it was a blowout, so I didn't have to write about "free positions" or "shooting space." I was then as familiar with those terms as I still am with quantum physics terminology.
Mount Hebron had 12 players on that team who would go on to play for Division I colleges. And, I learned later, that's pretty typical of the rosters they field each season.
In the four seasons since my first lacrosse experience, Mount Hebron has lost just one game; it entered the 2005 season on a 60-game winning streak. Howard County's high schools have produced many dominant teams, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a dynasty greater than the one Mount Hebron has going right now -- in any state, any sport.
Mount Hebron has won 12 state titles in 13 years, easily making it the most successful team in the county in any sport. It's not typical for a team to be so good for so long, especially for a public school such as Mount Hebron, whose team is composed entirely of players who live in a section of the 21043 Zip code.
Covering girls lacrosse for this newspaper has taken me from Frederick to Prince Frederick, from Catonsville to Rockville and from Columbia to the District of Columbia, but it's still played the best in Ellicott City.