This was supposed to be the year the Severna Park boys lacrosse team took a step back.
The graduation of players, the program’s unsustainably high standard of success over the past three seasons, and the ascending level of competition in Maryland were going to give 4A programs across the state hope that the sun was setting on the Falcons’ incomparable reign of state championships.
Driven by their own vision for the season, the 2019 Falcons secured their state title on May 22, receiving an admirable challenge from a game-ready Howard High School team but ultimately powering through the Lions for a 9-6 win and the 4A state championship at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.
Mikie Harmeyer led Severna Park with four goals, Connor Panebianco scored three goals and Colin Shadowens won 15 of 18 faceoffs to help crack a tricky Howard defensive game plan; Casey Fox made six saves to anchor a stout Severna Park defense; and the Falcons held their collective nerve in turning a tenuous 6-6 fourth-quarter tie into a proud finish and a duly earned place atop Maryland high school lacrosse.
“I think it’s just a great accomplishment,” said Severna Park fifth-year head coach Dave Earl. “It says a lot about the kids at Severna Park, the families, the administration. We couldn’t do it without all the support we get. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
On a beautiful and mild evening, thousands of spirited spectators from both schools turned out to see which side would bend in a strength-on-strength matchup that pitted presumptive favorite Severna Park (19-1) and its potent offense against Howard (13-6), a team that didn’t allow double-digit goals to any team this season and rested its title hopes on defensively grinding the Falcons’ powerful offense into frustration.
The plan worked in spurts, only for Severna Park to eventually overcome the obstacle.
The Falcons moved toward that outcome early, taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Kurt Klaus and extending the lead to 4-1 by the end of the first quarter on two goals by Harmeyer and one by Shadowens, who turned a faceoff win into a one-man fast break and a score. Shadowens won nine of 10 faceoffs in the first half.
The Lions began scraping their way back into the game behind brilliant individual ability of Henry Frazier IV, who scored all three Howard goals in the first half as Howard closed to within 5-3 by halftime.
Howard ratcheted up its defensive deployment in the third quarter, clogging up Severna Park’s cutting lanes and turning the ball back over to its offense, a theme that held throughout the most of the period as Severna Park impressively whipped passes around the perimeter, unsuccessfully searching for seams in the defense.
Frazier IV scored to make it 5-4, and, after a long defensive stand, freshman Nathan Boone scored for a 5-5 tie.
Panebianco ended a long drought by regaining the Severna Park lead at 6-5 heading into the fourth quarter, but Jeff Bruner’s goal for Howard with 8 minutes, 50 seconds to play in the game rewarded another Lions defensive stand to tie the contest at 6-6.
Howard’s fans cheered for a turning tide; there was a sense that the Lions just might push the game all the way to the closing moments and somehow come out on top.
With the game hanging in the balance, Severna Park seized control. Shadowens won the ensuing faceoff and sprinted down the field to find Panebianco, who quick-sticked a pass to Harmeyer for a dodge and an overhead shot — the junior Virginia commit’s goal was his 99th of the season and gave Severna Park a 7-6 lead just nine seconds after Howard had tied the game.
Howard had a possession to tie the game, but Severna Park’s defense came up big. Matt Alton dispossessed a Howard attackman and retrieved the ball, pushing it ahead to the offense.
With possession, the Falcons fired the ball back and forth in search of an opening — Howard goalie Matt Hubbard said after the game that they hadn’t faced any team that moves the ball as fast and as well as Severna Park. After a series of passes, Joey Killpatrick found a cutting Panebianco in front of the cage, and Panebianco stuck his shot low for an 8-6 lead with 5:46 left.
Harmeyer said the speed and crisp passing of the offense is the yield from dedicated practice.
“It starts in practice. Every day we do stick work,” said Harmeyer. “We just have great chemistry on offense. I think just working on our stick work every day in practice and getting better at it really helps us, and it showed tonight against the zone, we were able to just move the ball around and get looks off of it.”
After another Shadowens faceoff win, Howard frantically tried to double-team the ball, but to no avail. Harmeyer played keep-away before finding Cam Bear, who fed Panebianco for another score and a 9-6 lead with just over two minutes to play. Another Shadowens faceoff win gave the Falcons two minutes to salt away the clock before rushing the field in celebration of their state crown.
Earl credited the defensive game-planning of assistant coach Travis Loving with empowering the primary defensive unit of Alton, Mark Bredeck, Ben Morgan and Trent Bellotte to protect Severna Park’s goal in front of Fox, a junior who stepped into the starting role midseason after an injury to senior Shane Carr.
“Our defense, I have the most respect for them,” said Fox, rattling off his teammates by name in describing the attributes that helped Severna Park lock down late in the game. “They help me. They guide me through everything…They were all there, and they played a hell of a game. They came out with determination and had the guts to come out with great defensive play.”
For all the fanfare of the game, Severna Park’s 19 wins (including a 10-9 region-final victory over Broadneck and a 12-4 state semifinal win over ‘17 and ‘18 finals opponent Churchill), the Falcons returned several times during the postgame press conference to an important theme.
“We practice all day,” said senior Jimmy Maher, who led the Severna Park in points with an astonishing 40 goals and 59 assists this season. “It’s all credit to our coaches. They really set us up for something. They told us exactly what was going to happen. They set us up in the right way to be successful. We just kept fighting and kept working hard, and our discipline really showed.”
“I think it goes back to practice,” said Earl, describing the coolheaded way the Falcons were able to finish strong out of pressure-filled moments. “We work on a lot of situations in practice, and these guys are all business. When we get out on game day, we just try to do what we do, trying to emulate how we play in practice, and that’s where the calmness comes from.”
With four straight championships, the program now has nine all-time, surpassing Dulaney’s eight and tied with Hereford for most in the state.
Maher said he received messages of support from many recent alumni before the game, and members of past teams were in the stands cheering on their program.
“It gives you bigger purpose,” said Maher, one of only six seniors on the team. “You’re not just playing for this year’s team. You’re playing for anyone who’s ever worn the Severna Park Falcons [jersey].”
The lights in the stadium shut off prematurely, cutting the postgame celebration short before any team photos could be taken, but it didn’t damper the spirits of the Falcons, who embraced family members across the playing field’s fence.
Then, out of it all, with the extended Severna Park community and lacrosse families basking in the warmth of another state title, the Falcons shot out a cold notice.
“We can be happy now, but as soon as the next season arises, we’re coming out, we’re fighting,” said Fox, his tone measured and deliberate.
“We’re looking for number five.”
The Severna Park lacrosse players are Cameron Caouette, Joey Killpatrick, Anders Hansen, Henry Wood, Tommy Haskell, Joaquin Villagomez, Michael Harmey,er, Kyle Griffith, Stephen Oxley, Cameron Bear, Conner Koistinen, Matt Alton, Colin Shadowens, Cameron Sauvageau, Will Bray, Eddie Sullivan, Charlie Evans, Shane Carr, Jack Chadwick, Casey Fox, Jimmy Maher, Austin Persico, Braden Layne, Gavin Mullervy, Alex Miller, Connor Panebianco, Rory Sullivan, Trey Smack, Sean Ladas, Ben Morgan, Michael Morreale, Dawson Duckworth, Kurt Klaus, Pat Fenn, Alix Soliman, Christopher Savani, Mark Bredeck, Trent Bellotte, Tad Naylor, Akshay Shah and Niles Tinsley. They are coached by Dave Earl and assistant coaches Travis Loving, Peter Papaleonti, Walter Dearborn and Michael Hofstedt.