For much of her career, Patuxent's Tasha Klares had built a reputation for stopping goals, not scoring them.

So when Coach Lynn Powell asked the All-Extra player of the year to move from defense to center midfield, Klares accepted, albeit grudgingly. Klares, after all, had led a defense that yielded nine goals last season and only one in league play.

It wasn't until the first 4-on-3 drills in practice this summer that Klares finally warmed up to the change of scenery. She scored a few goals, reveled in the unfamiliar feeling for a bit, then turned to her coach and said, "Okay, I like it."

The change was one of necessity. After falling to South River in the 4A East final last season, the Panthers lost 11 players to graduation. That left Klares as one of four senior starters this season, and with her versatility, Powell needed her as a midfielder.

"I thought about it the day we lost to South River," said Powell, whose team has won 20 straight league games. "I knew what was coming back. I graduated every midfielder, and that's really a strong position. I needed someone who can adjust, and Tasha's that kind of athlete."

Powell and Klares agree that the switch wasn't as monumental as it seemed. Although she wasn't a center midfielder in name last season, many of her responsibilities were similar.

Klares was the one who pushed the ball up to the front line before dropping back on defense. But this year, rather than retreating after moving the ball downfield, Klares is being asked to stick around a little longer and play a larger role in the offense.

"Everyone is making sacrifices on this team," Klares said. "I think we only have two or three girls in the same position they were in last season. We're already seeing a lot of improvement."

In the Panthers' quest to defend their Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title, Klares will have help from three senior starters: goalie Whitney Thomas, midfielder Katie Borgholthaus and forward Mary Strain, who Powell said might have the best stick skills in the league.

Thomas could be as crucial as anyone to the Panthers' playoff hopes. Last year, the Klares-led backfield was so proficient in turning back opposing offenses before they could get a shot that Thomas's important role was overlooked during the regular season.

But during the playoffs, Thomas's play was huge, particularly during the 3-0 loss to South River. Motivated by the loss and encouraged by the program's continued progress, the Panthers should benefit from a move down to 2A this season.

"We wanted it so bad last year I can't describe it," Thomas said. "When we lost to South River we were upset, but we did improve. The year before, we had lost to them 9-0. So we are getting better as a program, and this year we have a chance to do something."

If the loss of so many key players doesn't seem to weigh on Patuxent, it might be because Powell's team has been through a similar experience. The Panthers lost 11 seniors to graduation after the 2002 season and went 9-1 the next season.

The team's rallying cry in 2003: Tradition never graduates.

"We tried to teach them the importance of work ethic that year and all those little things," Powell said. "Every year we've just gone one step further with what every senior class has left behind."

Tasha Klares, the All-Extra player of the year, has moved to center midfield.Patuxent Coach Lynn Powell said Mary Strain, one of four senior starters, might have the best stick skills in the SMAC.