Players on the Maryland & D.C. Black 2006 club lacrosse team refused to let a loss in the final game of the summer season overshadow a three-month period in which they realized they can continue playing beyond high school.

The team lost, 5-3, to rival Sky Walkers Blue 2006 of Baltimore in the championship game of the Galaxy National tournament last weekend, but players were smiling as they walked off the field at Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown.

"We're proud just to make it this far in such a tough tournament that had so many good teams," said Centennial senior midfielder Janna Faulkner. "Look how far we've come since the summer started."

In June, Maryland & D.C. Black, a team of seniors primarily from Howard County public schools, had the challenge of living up to the expectations of last year's Black 2005 team. That team won the club circuit's three biggest tournaments -- the National Draw, Vail Shootout and Galaxy National championships -- to finish 31-0. All 25 players accepted Division I scholarships.

"It took us some time to learn how to play together," said Alex Mengel, an attacker for Mount Hebron, of this year's team, which included a number of new players. "It was hard at first, but I think we're such a better team now than when we started."

M&D was not the nation's best club lacrosse team, but it might have been the most improved. During the course of the summer, M&D lost to Chesapeake Club Lacrosse 2006, Long Island Yellow Jackets 2006 Blue and Sky Walkers White 2006. But last weekend, M&D beat all three of those teams, by a combined score of 20-10.

"When we played all those teams the first time, we just got demolished," said M&D Coach Scott Robinson, also an assistant coach at Mount Hebron. "But to beat them in the last tournament is a measuring stick to show how much we grew as a team."

M&D never defeated Sky Walkers 2006 Blue, which emerged as the nation's top team of rising seniors by winning the National Draw and Galaxy National championships.

But a team's success isn't based just on its victories. The primary goal for incoming seniors is to impress college coaches who attend tournaments, including the roughly 50 at the Galaxy tournament.

One of M&D's 21 players has orally accepted a Division I lacrosse scholarship, and 17 others have been offered scholarships by at least one school. Mount Hebron midfielder Megan Bosica, the All-Met player of the year, had received numerous offers before the season, but defender Alex Mundy, who attends Glenelg, did not have any offers -- until she made a name for herself this summer.

"This summer changed my life forever because it opened doors for me that probably would have never been opened because now I'm going to get to play in college," said Mundy, who has orally committed to Vanderbilt. "To get the chance to play for this team after never playing club lacrosse [before this year] meant so much to me. It would have been great to go out by winning this tournament, but losing to a great team like Sky Walkers isn't bad."

M&D went 3-1 during pool play -- losing to Sky Walkers 2006 Blue, 7-2 -- and was then seeded sixth out of 23 teams in the tournament's single-elimination championship bracket Sunday, where it posted four victories by a combined score of 30-10 to advance to the final.

In the final game of a sun-swept weekend, Sky Walkers took a 3-1 lead at intermission, but Faulkner scored two goals in the second half to pull within 4-3 with five minutes remaining. M&D took the next two shots but did not score, and Sky Walkers' Sarah Seats secured the victory by scoring with 3 minutes 15 seconds remaining.

"When you play in tournaments like this in front of all these college coaches, the way you play either makes the deal or is a deal breaker if you want to play in college," said Mengel, who has been invited to official visits at Delaware and Virginia Tech.

"I think everyone on our team is now in a better situation than they were at the start of the summer."

Caitlin Burr, left, Jessica Sturg of M&D Black, which lost in the final of the Galaxy National tourney.In her first summer of club lacrosse, M&D Black's Alex Mundy committed to Vanderbilt.M&D Black Coach Scott Robinson watches practice. He said M&D showed great improvement by the end of the season, beating teams it had lost to earlier in the summer.