The black chain-link fence at the far end of Winston Churchill's practice field is dangerously low.
Cars whiz by on Victory Lane. Others remain parked mere feet from the tiny barrier.
Every practice, Churchill boys lacrosse coach Jeff Fritz brings 85 balls to the field to encourage his high-powered offensive team to shoot, shoot and shoot again.
Vehicles and meandering pedestrians, you're officially on notice.
“We emphasize shooting at practice, and we hit the cars occasionally,” Fritz said. “It's embarrassing how many balls we go through each year. We go through a lot of balls, lose a lot of balls. That's the cost of a good season.”
There have been plenty of those during Fritz's 19-year coaching tenure at Churchill. The Bulldogs have only had two losing seasons under Fritz, but also have only reached the state semifinals once (2002). Never bad, by any stretch, but never in the upper echelon.
That's where this year's team comes in. Churchill is 6-1, with the lone loss coming to Lower Merion (Pa.) during a spring break trip. The offense is averaging 12.6 goals per game and has been held below 10 goals once, in that 10-7 loss to Lower Merion.
“With the players we have this year, there's a lot of pressure. But if you don't want that pressure, you're in the wrong place,” Fritz said. “It's the easiest team I've ever coached in my 19 years here. There are no egos, no drama and they're extremely hard-working. They know the potential they have to make things happen.”
Junior attacker Matt Leonard leads the team with 23 goals, followed closely by freshman standout Louis Dubick (20), who also has 16 assists. The Bulldogs have six players on offense who have a legitimate chance to score on every possession.
“We definitely know people are talking about us,” said Leonard, who has committed to Towson University. “We've had good kids in the past, but we've never had a team that has a lacrosse IQ like this one does.”
Leonard is at the forefront of Churchill's disciplined team. His combination of stick skills and work ethic make him an easy catalyst for success, playing off the budding stardom of Dubick.
“He's a student of the game,” Fritz said of Leonard. “He wants to get better. He's very coachable and doesn't have the attitude that he knows it all. He's a kid you absolutely love.”
Senior Cameron Moshyedi, who has 11 goals and 11 assists this year and appears fully recovered from a broken wrist, is another one of Churchill's poised, confident and determined captains. After a midweek practice, Moshyedi and the other captains congregated in a circle and discussed the preceding events for 10 minutes. They talk often.
“The players this year are completely bought in,” Moshyedi said. “We have five captains who do a very good job making sure every player knows what's expected of them. Practices this year have been much harder. Much more crisp than they've been before.”
Instead of traveling for spring break, many of the players and captains remained in Montgomery County, holding optional workouts, honing their stick skill and thinking about lacrosse and about winning meaningful games in May.
“We realized you can't really take a week off in the middle of the season and expect to come back to where you've been before,” Moshyedi said. “I feel like we haven't lost anything.”
Churchill notched back-to-back victories against Walter Johnson and Walt Whitman following the break. The experience of Churchill's 17 seniors will be needed most through the final six games.
The problem with being consistently good for so long, but never elite, is that players might settle for success at a certain level. This year, the captains have made it clear that isn't an option.
“I feel like compared to other years, we have a lot more kids who want to work hard toward something. This is no joking matter this year,” senior defenseman Bryan Morritt said.
Then, of course, there's April 25. That's when Churchill takes on Thomas S. Wootton, the six-time defending 4A/3A West Region champion and the school's biggest rival.
“We talk about that game a lot, not only because they're the county's best, but because they're our arch rivals,” said Fritz, who said he was asked to coach at another Montgomery County high school before the season, but quickly declined the offer. “Honestly, it hasn't been much of a rivalry lately because they've won six times in a row. We need to make it a rivalry. We need to take it from them. They're in our way of us accomplishing our goals.”
The captains seconded Fritz's sentiment. And with Wootton appearing more vulnerable than usual (4-4), this could be the season the Bulldogs break through. But, as has become obvious to Fritz and his group, merely setting for a regular-season win against the Patriots won't be enough.
“We know what our potential is,” Moshyedi said. “All the seniors know we can't be content with going out early in the state tournament.”