Shortly after the best lacrosse team in Southern Maryland walked off the field for the last time this season, Calvert senior Joyce Haines was able to figure out why the Cavaliers lost in the Maryland 3A semifinals to Catonsville.

"This was one of our hardest games of the season," Haines said after the 10-9 loss Saturday at Urbana, "because it's someone who was at our level."

Calvert became the first lacrosse team -- boys or girls -- from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference to win a regional title and advance to the state tournament when it walloped J.M. Bennett, 21-3, to win the 3A-2A South Region title May 19.

The Cavaliers rolled through many of their opponents similarly in the regular season. They swept through their SMAC schedule for the third time in four seasons and won their 15 matches this season by an average of 10 goals. Calvert doubled the score of each SMAC opponent, except for Northern, which the Cavaliers defeated, 12-8, a week after they enjoyed an 18-7 victory.

Those scores, however, carried little weight against a team such as Catonsville from the lacrosse hotbed of metropolitan Baltimore. Calvert (15-2) knew this would be nothing like its previous matches, but still, there was little the Cavaliers could do to prepare.

As Calvert competed with Catonsville to the last second, the Cavaliers were doing something they had not done all season -- play in crunch time. Nearly every prior match had been a blowout.

"They don't have experience against teams like this," Calvert Coach Bonnie Harrison said. "We try to go outside the SMAC and get some games against better programs."

Calvert and St. Mary's county schools began playing lacrosse as a varsity sport in 2000, and it is not easy for a new Maryland program to develop when the more established teams statewide are as good as any nationwide.

The Cavaliers know matches like the one against Catonsville are building blocks, not only for their program, but for other SMAC teams as well. Calvert's opponents will see the Cavaliers learned from matches like this and try to emulate them.

Catonsville "knows instinctively what to do," Harrison said, "while we have to think about it. But the more they play, the more they'll get comfortable with it."

Haines said, "It was a new competition for us, and we'll grow from it."

Calvert grew by leaps and bounds this season. After falling in the regional final in each of the past two seasons, the Cavaliers got over the hump this year. Individually, too, they are growing as players.

Sophomore Jesseca Virgin had never touched a lacrosse stick before team tryouts in March. After the Comets scored four times in the first seven minutes, Virgin's goal a minute later not only stopped Catonsville's momentum but also sparked Calvert, which tallied seven of the next nine goals to take its first lead.

Virgin's goal, her 23rd of the season, good for fourth on the team, is an example of how quickly the Cavaliers are developing.

"When I came in as a freshman, a whole bunch of seniors quit," said Haines, who has signed to play at Longwood University next season. "Every game was like we didn't know if we'd win or lose. We never thought we'd be here. . . . Kids never played. Now, they say it's their favorite sport. They play all year, during the summer."

Calvert's Jesseca Virgin shoots in a 21-3 rout of J.M. Bennett in the 3A-2A South Region final, but Calvert fell 10-9 to Catonsville in the state semifinal.Calvert's Joyce Haines maneuvers against Leonardtown this season. The Cavaliers lost the state 3A semifinal to Catonsville, 10-9.