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and Emma Caulk (D) will also fac­tor into a mix of play­ers high on chem­istry on and off the field, some­thing San­tos Bates noted as a de­cided strength.

“We have a lot of re­turn­ing play­ers, and we were very strong last year, and we’re even stronger this year,” San­tos Bates said. “They’re re­turn­ing not just from last year, but also the year prior to, so some of th­ese girls have been on the team for three or four years, so they have valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They’ve also been play­ing to­gether since young, rec years,” San­tos Bates added. “This team is very dif­fer­ent than any other team I’ve had at Queen Anne’s. They play as a team, for their team, and they all work very well to­gether. Th­ese play­ers are also spe­cial­ized in their po­si­tions, and that is a huge as­set to any team.

“The kids that are play­ing mid­field, have been play­ing mid­field since they were lit­tle,” San­tos Bates con­tin­ued. “The kids that are play­ing right-handed at­tack­men, have been play­ing right-handed at­tack­men since they were lit­tle, so it’s a nat­u­ral flow of this team that has grown older to­gether.”

The end-goal be­came a lit­tle more at­tain­able af­ter three-time de­fend­ing 2A/1A state cham­pion Manch­ester Val­ley bumped up a clas­si­fi­ca­tion to 3A/2A. The Mav­er­icks knocked out the Li­ons dur­ing each of those sea­sons, but the clear­ing in the for­est doesn’t mean there aren’t other trees to nav­i­gate.

The Li­ons are just one of a hand­ful of premier pro­grams that will be look­ing to as­cend to the throne now that Manch­ester Val­ley no longer fac­tors into the run­ning, which means San­tos Bates has her work cut out scout­ing would-be con­tenders.

She also said it’s “not a door-die sea­son,” de­spite the bevy of grad­u­at­ing se­niors.

“I feel that it’s def­i­nitely a doable sea­son,” San­tos Bates said. “I think Manch­ester leav­ing, it def­i­nitely opens up the door for us, but, there are also teams that Manch­ester Val­ley knocked off prior to us see­ing them that we now have to learn about.

“We have to learn their strengths and how they play,” San­tos Bates con­tin­ued. “Teams like Cen­tury, and Lib­erty are two teams that Manch­ester Val­ley used to see in the play­offs on their side of their bracket that we now have to watch early in the sea­son. We also need to watch South­ern, as well.”

The Li­ons’ equal-op­por­tu­nity of­fense was of­ten bril­liant in 17-6 and 14-5 wins over Kent Is­land and Stephen De­catur, re­spec­tively, but there are tweaks and ad­just­ments San­tos Bates is al­ready look­ing into.

“As far as us play­ing them and do­ing very well against them, there are things that we need to fine-tune mov­ing for­ward in the sea­son that we saw in the past two games,” San­tos Bates said. “It will make us even bet­ter when it comes to the Bay­side cham­pi­onship as well as the play­offs.”

Queen Anne’s de­fense and goal­tend­ing were also solid against pre­sum­ably two of the top Bay­side schools in re­cent years, but like any other win­ning pro­gram, there is no rest­ing on the lau­rels of early sea­son suc­cess.

Whereas game plan­ning for the Buc­ca­neers and Sea­hawks took up much of San­tos Bates’ time in re­cent years, and didn’t al­low the team to fully gear up for the re­gion play­offs un­til those hur­dles were cleared, the con­di­tions are now more con­ducive — and cer­tainly for­tu­itous — when it comes to paint­ing a long-term pic­ture.

The cul­ture is set, mile­stone vic­to­ries are all but ex­pected, plat­i­tudes are at a pre­mium, and per­haps for the first time in San­tos Bates’ ten­ure, al­most ev­ery domino is lined up just a week into the sea­son. The chase is again on for what would be the first-ever state cham­pi­onship for a girls’ lacrosse pro­gram from the Eastern Shore.

“Ev­ery­one knows what the ex­pec­ta­tions are,” San­tos Bates said. “They know that they need to work hard, and they need to know that they need to do things to make them­selves bet­ter, as well as make other play­ers bet­ter.

“They’re not just do­ing it for them­selves, but they’re do­ing it for the team,” San­tos Bates added. “I think with the ex­pe­ri­ence we’ve had in years past, where we have got­ten, I think that’s an ex­pec­ta­tion of the play­ers who come in. They know it is an ex­pec­ta­tion, and it is a goal to get back to the state play­offs.

“Get­ting to the state cham­pi­onship is a bonus, and we’re look­ing to win it.”

Here’s a look at this year’s lo­cal teams:

Kent Is­land Head coach: Thomas Eveler, 2nd year

Out­look: Kent Is­land looks to keep build­ing af­ter grad­u­at­ing a large and tal­ented se­nior class. Mary Gately (Sr., G, 85 saves, AMS 2T), Nina Ci­fo­lilli (Sr., A), Caro­line Bland­ford (Jr., M) and Sydney Holtzner (Jr., D, AMS 2T) af­ford ex­pe­ri­ence at dif­fer­ent parts of the field, while un­der­class­men Cas­sidy Creighton (So., M) and Blair Goodrich (Fr., M) will also see plenty of play­ing time.

“Our strength lies in a good bal­ance of tal­ent with skilled play­ers spread across all grades,” Eveler said. “Team­work and bal­ance will see Kent Is­land through the most com­pet­i­tive sched­ule they have faced in years.” Saints Peter and Paul Head coach: Megan Wil­bert, 1st year

Out­look: Wil­bert, who served sec­ond-in-com­mand un­der Mike Morse in 2016, takes over the pro­gram along with as­sis­tant coach Ni­cole Sny­der.

Megan Hickey (Sr., CM/A, 51/20, AMS 1T), Caro­line Mur­phy (Jr., A, 55/12, AMS 1T), Jen Dou­glas (Sr., D, AMS 1T), Ju­lia D’Alb­ora (Jr., D), Sunny Sturmer (Jr., G), Mad­die Boehm (Jr., M), Maddy Marciniak (Sr., A/M, 29/12, AMS 2T) and Kate Sovero (Sr., A, 22/36, AMS 2T) head­line a re­turn­ing cast look­ing to re­cap­ture the Eastern Shore In­de­pen­dent Ath­letic Con­fer­ence.

“We want to fo­cus the girls more on what they can ac­com­plish as a team and not just try to win the cham­pi­onship,” Wil­bert said. “We have a great sched­ule with lots of chal­leng­ing teams, and we have the con­fi­dence to go into the cham­pi­onship game and win it.”

Gun­ston Head coach: Jeff Smith, 3rd year

Out­look: The Herons grad­u­ated seven, and ac­cord­ing to Smith, are a “very, very, very, very young team.”

“The Worces­ters and Saints Peter and Pauls and Calver­tons of the world are all big­ger pro­grams, but the other half of our sched­ule, there is a lit­tle more even com­pe­ti­tion,” said Smith, who will be flanked by as­sis­tant Willy Agee. “Sixty per­cent of our play­ers are first-time high school play­ers, and ev­ery game they’ll get a lit­tle bit less green.”

De­fender Alice Agee is the team’s only se­nior, while Joey Smith (Jr., A, 19/34, AMS 2T), Bren­nan Paddy (Jr., M, 37/12, AMS 1T), Nelly Stup (So., D) and Lilly Judd (Fr., G) were also listed as stand­outs.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Ay­man_S­tarDem. Email me at aalam@star­

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