There are several reasons for Westlake's fast start in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.

The Wolverines (6-3, 6-0 SMAC) have three defensive backs in their second year as starters, their offensive attack is more balanced (Lauren Russell with 11 goals and Thuy Le with 8 goals) than a year ago, and they have received strong goaltending (four shutouts).

But Coach Will Morris says Westlake's defeat by one of the top teams in the state may have been the most important reason of all.

"The loss really helped us," Morris said. "We lost the game, but it gave us a lot of confidence."

The setback came at the hands of Tuscarora, on Sept. 29. The Titans are one of the stronger teams in the Monocacy Valley Athletic Conference in Frederick County and have posted an 8-1 record for the season while outscoring opponents 36-8. But the Wolverines hung tough with Tuscarora, dropping the game, 3-2. From that point on, the Wolverines knew they could play with anyone.

Westlake used its newfound confidence the next week and jumped out to a quick 3-0 first-half lead against Leonardtown before coasting to a 4-2 victory. Russell scored all four goals in the victory against the Raiders. The win put the Wolverines in first place in the SMAC.

Westlake will be tested Thursday when it faces Patuxent (6-1, 6-1) in a battle for first place.

'College System' Defense

When Calvert Coach Doug Jones implemented a defensive system that emphasized a new flat back line before the season, he wasn't sure how his players would adapt. With more than half of the season behind them, the Cavaliers (4-2-1 overall, 4-2-1 SMAC) seem to have grasped the concept.

The Calvert defense, anchored by junior stalwart Sarah Piccirilli, has allowed only three goals this season and very few opportunities in front of the net. Two of the goals against the Cavaliers came off corner kicks while the third was a shot from 30 yards away from goal.

"It's more of a college system we're playing," Jones said of his defensive system. "We have two seniors, a sophomore and a freshman back there, and they have to communicate. [So far] they're keeping people out."

Along with the team's stifling defense, Calvert has strengthened its midfield presence in an attempt to gain a possession advantage on its opponents. In their 2-2 tie against Lackey on Thursday, the Cavaliers were able to string together multiple passes at a time before getting a shot on goal.

The Cavaliers will rely heavily on their ball control and defense in a stretch run that includes games against Thomas Stone and Patuxent.

Promising Underclassmen

This may not be the season La Plata (2-4, 2-4 SMAC) challenges for the conference title, but that realization may not be far off for the Warriors, thanks to some underclassmen who are growing up quickly.

Take La Plata's game against Huntingtown on Tuesday. During the Warriors' 5-0 victory, all 11 of the Warriors on the field were underclassmen. Sophomore Melissa Loeper scored three goals. Junior Erica Hocking and freshman Samantha Welniak each added a goal.

Loeper may be the most promising underclassman for La Plata. She has the ability to play either midfield or forward, and the hat trick against Huntingtown was her second of the season. She also scored three goals in the Warriors' 4-1 win over McDonough.

Thuy Le warms up to play for Westlake High School, which will be tested Thursday when it faces Patuxent (6-1, 6-1) in a battle for first place.