At 36-6, the Maryland Monarchs have established themselves as this state's elite summer baseball team. Starting tomorrow, they'll try to prove they're one of the best teams in the nation.

Coached by Arundel's Bernie Walter, the Maryland Monarchs will play in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association 18-and-under Wooden Bat World Series in Columbia, S.C. Last summer, the team finished second in the CABA 18-and-under Aluminum Bat World Series in Miami -- a result it hopes to improve on this week.

"We've got the talent to win this thing," Walter said. "We've got a great team, and we're playing well. This is our biggest challenge of the summer, obviously, but I think we're up to it."

Propelled by pitchers Ken Misal (Southern) and Tyler Hibbs (Arundel), the Monarchs have lost just once in their last 15 games. Using wooden bats, they've still managed to manufacture runs thanks to consistent hitting from Corey Overholtzer (Arundel), Greg Phelps (Old Mill) and Alex Buchholz (Old Mill).

The Wooden Bat World Series will last almost a week, starting with round robin preliminary play.

"If this team gets hot, we're going to be tough to stop," Walter said. "I just hope we keep playing like we've been playing."

Spalding Movin' on Up

After two seasons in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference, Spalding's football team will move to a renovated B Conference this season.

When Spalding starts practice Aug. 8, the Cavaliers will outline an entirely different set of goals: They hope to beat new B Conference rivals Severn and St. Mary's and they hope to play in the first B Conference championship game.

"It's exciting, because there are all of these possibilities out there for us that we never had before," Coach Mike Whittles said. "It's a whole different scenario this year. Our schedule is definitely beefed up again, and we've got to rise to that challenge."

In November, the MIAA voted to combine the B and C Conferences. The newly formed B Conference will have two divisions -- one includes Spalding, St. Mary's, Severn, Prospect Hall and Pallotti -- and the winners of each division play in a postseason championship game.

Spalding finished 8-2 in each of the last two seasons and hopes to replicate that success again this year. The team brings back last season's backfield: quarterback Casey Amsler, running back and coach's son Mike Whittles and fullback Sean Hately. The Cavaliers also have high expectations for players coming up from a junior varsity team that went undefeated in 2004.

"We're ready for the tougher competition," the younger Whittles said. "That championship game is going to give us something to shoot for. We're going after that hard."

Severna Park Adds Coach

It's a rules change that many coaches hardly even noticed, but Severna Park cross country coach Ed Purpura said a tweak in Anne Arundel County cross country bylaws will make his life significantly easier.

For the first time this season, county cross country teams with more than 30 athletes are allowed to have two paid assistant coaches instead of only one. For Purpura, who expects to have more than 80 runners, the rule seems long overdue.

"Last year we had 86 kids on our roster and there were only two of us," Purpura said. "That was totally exhausting. I'm so happy we don't have to do that again."

Instead, Purpura will rely on the help of Mary Seidel, a Severna Park substitute teacher, and Justin Marvel, a former county champion at Severna Park. The trio will coach a team that promises to be one of the most successful in the county. Both Brian Cyr and Liya Kasimova will contend for the county championship.

Before the summer, Purpura gave each Severna Park runner a detailed training packet. It requires 40 miles of running each week, including a 10-mile run once every seven days.

"We want them to come into the season prepared," Purpura said. "We've got a big team, so we've all got to be on the same page. It's a short season, and we want to start it the right way."

Monarchs pitcher Ken Misal, above, backed up by third baseman D.J. Califano, is a little late throwing to first on a bunt by Ryder Ansell of the Maryland Lakers in the sixth inning. Above left, Monarchs Coach Bernie Walter surveys the action.ED PURPURA