When South River began the 1986 lacrosse season, both coach and team were hoping for, at best, a .500 season. With only five seniors on an 18-man team that had graduated six starters, including standout midfielder Toot Newman, the Seahawks were cautious at best, downright pessimistic at worst.

Maybe there's a moral here because entering the regular-season finale against Southern, which was played Tuesday, the Seahawks were 11-1 overall and led the Anne Arundel AB League with a 5-0 record. South River will begin the playoffs Friday at home as the top seed.

South River's only defeat was a 4-2 non-conference loss to Annapolis in the third game of the season, but that game proved to be an important lesson and confidence builder.

"That was the turning point for us," said senior midfielder and team captain Leonard Noone. "We were intimidated because we had never beaten them, but after the game, everyone realized we should have won. We realized we were good."

The Seahawks played at Annapolis later in the season and came home with a 7-4 victory.

"The first time we played Annapolis, we tried to be really physical and they ended up working the ball right by us," said senior midfielder Joe Clark. "The second meeting was just the opposite. We moved the ball past them."

The Seahawks finished 9-4 last year and placed second in the league behind Andover. They were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs.

"Last year we were more attack-oriented," said Greg Carroll, in his ninth year coaching the Seahawks. "This year we don't have as much ball handling. We're not running as much and we don't have as much finesse as last year. Also, we don't really have any outstanding players this year."

Which, of course, raises the question: What does South River have?

"We have a team," said Carroll. "We're playing team lacrosse, and we've got to continue that way to win."

Carroll is relying on his seniors to continue to set examples for the underclassmen. He calls Clark a "good ballplayer."

"He's a real hustler -- very good on the ground balls. He gives 100 percent effort all the time. He is successful because of his sheer determination."

Another senior, Rick Scannell, is considered by Carroll to be an excellent defensive player.

"He gets real good body position," Carroll said. "He's not the greatest with the stick, but his thinking makes him extremely tough. He's a real smart kid."

If the Seahawks are to be successful, they must execute their transition game. They managed to do that throughout the regular season.

"They have an excellent transition game," said Arundel Coach Clinton Gosnell, whose team lost to the Seahawks, 12-5. In that game, Clark had five goals and sophomore Rick Tomas added three goals and three assists.

"Rick is young, but he's well-skilled," said Carroll. "He could develop into an excellent lacrosse player if he continues to work on it."

Meanwhile, the Seahawks, who in February figured they would be resting by Friday rather than entering postseason play as the top seed, hope to continue their winning ways.

"It's true, we've accomplished things we didn't think we could," said Carroll. "And to be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure how we did it. I wish I did know -- I'd do it every year.

"The kids just decided to work hard. They decided they wanted to do something this year and they came out and played as a team.

"But," he added, "if they stop playing as a team, we can hang it up tomorrow."