Minutes after Lackey's 5-2 victory against Northern on Oct. 12, Northern Coach Jaime Webster and Lackey Coach Gary Lesko had a discussion on the Chargers' soccer field for several minutes.

The coaches were trying to decide who was the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's top team.

The answer has eluded just about everyone at some point this season, and depending on how the Westlake-Northern game played out yesterday, there may still be more discussions between coaches. Northern (9-2-1, 7-2 SMAC) entered yesterday's matchup with the SMAC's best record.

[For results of the Northern-Westlake (9-4, 7-3) game, see the Sports section in today's Post.]

The tight SMAC race has not surprised many coaches, including Patuxent's Mike Melamphy, who has said all along that the competition would be close and picking a team to win it all would be next to impossible.

"I guess one word that comes to mind is unpredictable. You just don't know what's going to happen in the conference . . . and who is going to win it," Melamphy said. "Every game we played this season has been a game. There may have been one easy one, but the majority of our games we haven't been able to get all our players off the bench and playing."

Patuxent (9-3-2, 7-3-1) seemed as if it might be the top team after defeating both Northern and Lackey. But the Panthers finished their season without clinching a title because of losses to Calvert, Thomas Stone and La Plata, each by one goal.

Lackey (10-3, 7-3) looked poised to take the conference title after it beat Northern. But the Chargers suffered a 3-1 setback to McDonough (4-8, 3-6) on Tuesday.

Melamphy pointed to the close competition as both an excellent primer for the postseason and a signal that the SMAC is growing stronger.

"I talked to Old Mill Coach Jeff Martin, and he was telling me the thing about our conference is that it's getting more and more stronger and it's getting recognition," Melamphy said. "But I'd still say there is no clear standout team."

Webster agrees that the SMAC is much stronger than it was when he was a midfielder on Northern's team in the early 1990s.

Webster said enrollment in his summer camp at Northern has risen steadily the past few years.

"Soccer is just exploding down here because now if you look around, almost every team in the SMAC has a kid who also plays on a club team," Webster said. "It makes a difference with the level of competition because the club soccer kids play all year round."

Jason McCann, left, of Leonardtown battles Northern's Nathan Sawyer on Thursday. Northern, which won 1-0, entered the weekend at 7-2 in the SMAC.