On a chilly February afternoon, Nick Mazza wound up to shoot during a drill at Calverton lacrosse practice, flinging the full force of his sturdy 6-foot-3 frame into the attempt to create maximum speed. When the All-Met attackman slipped on the muddy field and wrenched his back, the ordinary play threatened to derail his senior season.

“I kept trying to play through it, and it just got worse and worse,” Mazza said. “Finally, I went to the doctor, and he said I had to rest it.”

The driving force behind the squad that posted a school-record 17 wins last spring, Mazza reluctantly stayed on the sideline early this season with neither he nor first-year Coach Bill Ball quite sure when, or even if, he’d be ready to go again.

After sitting out three weeks and watching three disheartening losses to top out-of-area competition, the Penn State recruit finally returned to the lineup on March 20. Calverton fell 8-4 to No. 5 St. Mary’s-Annapolis in Mazza’s season debut and lost its next game to nationally ranked Culver Academy, but with its full complement of offensive weapons finally available, the team has only continued to improve.

The Cougars have won four of their past five games since the 0-5 start with Mazza accounting for 16 goals and eight assists in his six games. (He missed Tuesday’s 16-8 win over Eleanor Roosevelt after being ejected from Saturday’s victory against Middleburg Academy for a flagrant crosscheck.)

Gonzaga beat Landon for the second straight year, relying on a smothering defense led by senior Jack Slater. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“We’ve had our growing pains and stuff like that, but I give them a ton of credit,” said Ball, a New Hampshire native who had been an assistant at the Loomis-Chaffee School in Connecticut. “There was adversity. We preached, ‘What are you going to do when adversity hits?’ I was really proud of those guys because they stuck together.”

Calverton has dominated the Maryland Independent Lacrosse League in recent years, winning four straight titles. In turn, the Cougars have made a point to beef up their nonleague schedule in an effort to boost their regional profile.

Last year, the team scored upset victories over Landon of the Interstate Athletic Conference and St. Paul’s of the Maryland Independent Athletic Association — A Conference and finished No. 5 in The Post rankings.

But Mazza, who joined the varsity squad at the Huntingtown private school as an eighth-grader, has had to readjust his goals for his final high school season.

The high-scoring senior trio of Mazza, fellow Penn State recruit Cole Rainier and Stephen Goff gave the team hope for a similar run, even though it graduated a talented nine-player class, including David Goowin (Maryland) and Dylan Dooley (Ohio State).

While the Cougars beat Dallas Episcopal and Coronado, top teams from Texas and California, respectively, they couldn’t land the sort of local marquee victory to match last year’s success.

“We pride ourselves on those first seven [nonleague games],” said Mazza, who will likely play in the midfield at the next level. “The fact that I had to miss some of them was disheartening, but we’re slowly but surely getting things turned around. . . . We can still win another [league] championship. That would be big.”

Stone Bridge beat Westfield by a score of 12-11. (Abigail Fazio for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)
Madison braces for challenge

Madison will evaluate its spot amongst the top Northern Region teams this week with a pair of games against Chantilly and four-time defending state champion Langley.

After losing to Centreville, 6-4, on Tuesday night to earn their first local defeat of the season, the Warhawks (4-2, 1-0 AAA Liberty District) will be back on the field Wednesday night to take on Chantilly, a team that has scored 90 goals through eight games while allowing an average of just five goals per game.

The Warhawks will get a small break Thursday before Langley arrives Friday for the Liberty District opener for both teams. The Saxons have won seven straight games against Madison in a streak that dates back to May of 2009.

Before falling to Centreville Tuesday, the Warhawks had been on a roll, topping Robinson 15-9 to open the month of April and beating Marshall 12-3 last Friday.

Rankings: The Post Top 10

St. Mary’s-Annapolis rallied past then-No. 10 Severna Park, 8-7, on Saturday. Junior Liam Kelly netted the game-winner with less than two minutes left. . . . Paul VI held off St. Mary’s Ryken, 13-11, on Tuesday to remain unbeaten in WCAC play. The Panthers host top-ranked Gonzaga next week. . . . Arundel grabs a spot in the rankings after beating Southern, 15-5, on Tuesday behind six goals from senior Logan Fate to stay perfect.

1. Gonzaga (10-2) LW: 1

2. Landon (5-5) LW: 2

3. Paul VI (10-1) LW: 3

4. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (6-3) LW: 5

5. St. Mary’s-Annapolis (4-2) LW: 6

6. Georgetown Prep (10-4) LW: 4

7. Spalding (7-3) LW: 7

8. St. Mary’s Ryken (7-3) LW: 8

9. South River (5-2) LW: 9

10. Arundel (7-0) LW: NR

Dropped out: Severna Park (4-3)

Bubble: Churchill (5-0), Bullis (5-5), Chantilly (7-1)

Records through Tuesday