Northern’s Christian Daniel entered his freshman lacrosse season with modest personal expectations.

“I had a feeling I would be on varsity,” Daniel said. “I expected to get in maybe fourth quarter when we were up by a bunch. That’s usually what freshmen in past years have done.”

Instead, Daniel garnered a starting attack spot and has quickly emerged as one of the offensive catalysts for the Patriots, who have the inside track for their fourth straight Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound attackman has a team-best 17 goals and nine assists in eight games, handling the newfound spotlight with a veteran’s savvy.

Daniel said he attended a handful of varsity games last spring and would grow nervous in the stands, thinking about his own transition to the high school level. But once he joined the team for a few events in the summer, he realized he could handle the jump.

Northern Coach Joe Casalino had coached Daniel on his Calvert Cannons club team, which plays in the highly competitive National Premier Youth Lacrosse League. He knew the youngster would be able to help right away but said he’s been pleasantly surprised with how quickly Daniel has tweaked his game to fit a faster, more physical style, adjusting on the fly.

Stone Bridge senior captain Dylan Maltz will join his brother Derek at Syracuse next year, while little brother Danny, a lacrosse phenom, has hopes to join the Orange one day. Their father Derek was part of Syracuse’s first national championship team in 1983. (Abby Fazio for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

On Saturday night, Daniel finished with five goals and two assists in an 18-9 win at rival Huntingtown. If he keeps the team scoring lead, he’d be the first freshman to lead Northern in scoring since Peter Athens in 2006. Athens played two years for the Patriots before transferring and now plays quarterback for the Towson University football team.

“We’ve been excited waiting for [Daniel] to get up to the varsity,” Casalino said. “That said, we didn’t expect him to become such an enormous part of our offense. We’re still a little taken back by the way he’s been able to jump right in so quick.”

Northern (6-2) hopes to craft a different ending to a season on a familiar track. The team, which has 10 seniors and a pair of juniors with Division I interest in midfielder Austen King and defender Austin Howard, took both of its losses so far – against Hereford and Winters Mill – in a tournament on March 30.

In each of the past three years since joining the Maryland 4A/3A East, the Patriots have followed up their conference title with a playoff loss to an Anne Arundel County squad.

Last spring, they fell to eventual state champion South River, 14-6, in a region quarterfinal, the second time in three years the Seahawks eliminated them. On a recent rainy day, Casalino and his players gathered in the locker room at the Owings school and watched the tape of the latest season-ending defeat.

“We’ve been trying to push ourselves hard,” Daniel said, “because we know South River is out there doing the same thing.”

The Post Top 10

With Tuesday’s 12-6 win over Paul VI, Gonzaga has now beaten the next three teams in the poll and five of the current Top 10. Senior Joe Fitzpatrick had four goals in the latest marquee victory. . . . Spalding has taken its lumps in the perennially tough MIAA-A with three straight losses to teams ranked in the Top 20 of U.S. Lacrosse’s national poll. . . . Landon and Georgetown Prep meet in one of the area’s top rivalry games on Friday afternoon in Bethesda.

1. Gonzaga (12-2) LW: 1

2. Landon (7-5) LW: 2

3. Paul VI Catholic (11-2) LW: 3

4. Georgetown Prep (12-4) LW: 6

5. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (7-4) LW: 4

6. St. Mary’s-Annapolis (5-4) LW: 5

7. South River (7-2) LW: 9

8. Arundel (9-0) LW: 10

9. Spalding (10-5) LW: 7

10. DeMatha (8-4) LW: NR

Dropped Out: No. 8 St. Mary’s Ryken (10-4)

Bubble: Churchill (7-0), Chesapeake (8-1), Chantilly (9-1)