Having finally won the Maryland AA state lacrosse championship last year, Annapolis Coach Al Laramore might have settled down a bit this season.

It was the third sport in which the veteran coach has won a state championship, but Laramore nevertheless is eagerly seeking a title repeat.

The Panthers are in good shape, returning four defensemen and starting goalie John Talman from last year's 13-2 team that defeated Severna Park in the state finals. Mark Morgan, Richard Bowen, Steve McKinney and Jeff Nicholson lead an aggressive, stingy defense.

For balance, Laramore returns a potent attack, led by Mike Vittinger, Chris Hoveland, Stuart Sugg and Ben Bradner, and a good two-way midfield in Keith Barkley, Matt Clifford, Matt Liskey and Jason Dollar.

"We lost our first game this season (to Loyola of Baltimore, 14-4), and we weren't pleased with that result at all," Laramore said. "But when we come around, I think we'll be in excellent shape. We're young, but if we play like we did last year, we can win it again."

That first loss did put an unexpected damper on the team's early season, but the Panthers recovered for a 25-1 victory over Broadneck in their next game.

Annapolis' repeat chances are threatened by Severna Park, where second-year Coach Ben Lamon is trying to build on last year's success. Losing all-America goalie Jim Robertson, Lamon is banking on first-year starters Andy Croll, Scott Powell and John Fiech to solidify the defense. Mark Bourdin and Warren Westcoat compete for the goalie position.

The attack is built around returning midfielders Tom Dwyer and Kevin Harmon and attackmen John Hollerach, Pat McGeady and Mike Swift.

"Offensively, our top players have got to take a leadership role and I hope we can go from there," Lamon said. "If we get the goals and the points like we should, it's just a matter of outscoring the other teams. If we can work on the little things, we'll be in good shape."

Aside from those two teams, the Big 8 Conference is wide open. Arundel and Old Mill seem likely to challenge for at least third or fourth place. Meade, under first-year Coach Craig Tucker, should be competitive and finish better than .500.

Arundel's Mike Luebkert, the team's leading scorer at midfielder last year, has been switched to the attack, joining Mike Nordlinger, Wally Edelan and Doug Hornet. Three-year starter Albert Simmons is among four seniors at the midfield position. Two starters are back defensively.

Old Mill is confident this season because Coach Bruce Lawton returned 17 lettermen from last year's 7-5 team that advanced to the AA quarterfinals before losing to Dulaney. The Patriots are led by all-county selection Mark Moran, who notched more than 50 points as an attackman last season.

Tucker comes to Meade from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Meade was 6-8 but upset Severna Park in the regular season. Scott Reinicke and Torrance Hubbard are the key returnees to the attack; Mike Carmody, Jim Nestor and Chris Dizon are back at midfield; and the defense will again have the services of goalie Dave Burkehead.

In Class A, defending state champion South River appears to be the team to beat. Andover, Broadneck and Northeast will be the chief foes pressing the Seahawks, who have lost only twice in two years.

South River's main trouble this season is the loss of its entire starting attack. That means the midfielders will be expected to take on a leadership role with the return of Robert Baldwin, Joe Clark, Toot Newman, Lenny Noone and John Salazar.

The defense is without experience, too, with Tommy Hardesty being the only returning starter.

Led by a strong defense, Andover went 10-4 last year and made it to the state semifinals. Back are middies Scott Morrison (27 goals), Keith Storm and Jeff Wadsworth. Scott Furniss and Todd Holtzner return to the attack.

Broadneck went a surprising 9-4 last year. Back are all-county goalie Willie Griffin and all-county attackman Bill Kennerly.

Northeast, which went to the Class B semifinals before losing to Howard, returns seven starters from a 9-5 team.

The race in Howard County should be a good one, with Howard the early-season favorite despite losing 18 players. Howard could be challenged by Atholton, Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Mount Hebron.

Howard Coach Dan Ross has several players up from the junior varsity squad that went undefeated. The team is led by attackmen Jason Russo and Dan Kapfer, middies Corey Holmes, Stan Walter and Gunar Myers, and defenseman Bob Ford. At goalie is returnee David Smith.

The juniors on the team have never lost a game at Howard, and the seniors lost only to Edgewood in last year's state title game. Ross is confident that he may win it all this time around because "we had the best spring practice we've ever had."