It's very clear what's expected of the Dulaney High School boys' and girls' lacrosse teams every spring.
"Both the boys' and girls' programs at Dulaney hold themselves to the standard of state championships," Dulaney head boys' lacrosse coach Kyle Fiat said. "That is the expectation, the legacy that Dulaney has -- championship caliber."
It's the byproduct of a winning tradition that few Maryland public high school teams can match.
Since the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletics Association began to host state tournaments for lacrosse in 1990, the Lutherville-Timonium school has seen its boys' and girls' programs combine to win 10 state championships. Dulaney has also been MPSSAA state finalists another seven occasions and qualified for the state semifinals another 17 times.
The boys' team has made the most state tournament appearances among all boys' teams, with 20. The girls have the third most with 15, trailing only Mount Hebron and Loch Raven.
Lacrosse has been a sport at Dulaney since 1964, when physical education teacher George Gernand started the boys' team. The team's first big season came in 1976, when the Lions finished 10-2 and beat rival Towson for the first time in school history. That year, the team also became Baltimore County and regional champions for the first time.
Since that big season, a tradition of lacrosse excellence has permeated throughout the halls at Dulaney. Stories of past successful teams get passed from generation to generation, which inspires future generations of lacrosse players to want to succeed.
That's one thing that sticks out about the lacrosse culture at Dulaney -- generations of families, both on the boys' and girls' side, play for the Lions.
"We are that old now that a lot of guys I know when I played there live in the neighborhood still. Their kids play for Dulaney now," said Rob Herb, who graduated from Dulaney in 1974 and is now the chairman of the school's Athletics Hall of Fame. "Tradition plays a big part in Dulaney lacrosse."
That tradition is evident on this year's girls' team. One of the team's captains, junior Kaitlyn Dabkowski, grew up as a big Dulaney lacrosse fan after watching numerous family members play for the Lions. A relative she particularly remembers supporting is her cousin, Meghan Park, who played on the only two state championship teams the girls' program has produced, in 2005 and 2006.
"I grew up a big fan. Obviously, my cousin played a role in that," Dabkowski said. "I loved watching her and the team play. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a part of it."
The roles have now reversed, with Park watching Dabkowski play. It's a welcome sight for Park, who hopes the 10-year anniversary of the Dulaney girls' program's last state championship will give this year's team extra motivation.
"One of the most important things I learned while at Dulaney was to always try to make the next generation better," Park said. "Give them something to strive for. We gave them two championships back to back at the end of my high school career. Bettering the next generation, that's always something that has rang true with all the teams that have come through there."
For this current crop of Dulaney boys' and girls' lacrosse players, ending the school's state championship drought is a primary goal this season. The Lions haven't won a state championship since the boys won their program's eighth in 2008.
In recent seasons, Dulaney has had talented squads but hasn't been able to reach that elusive state championship game. The boys' program has won the MPSSAA Class 4A/3A South region championship the last two seasons, but both playoff runs ended in defeat in the state semifinal round.
"We always use it as motivation, because we're always looking for ways to get better," boys' team senior defender Javon Smith said. "We want to get past that. Every year, our goal is to get better, so we have to get over that hump."
The girls' team had excellent regular seasons in 2014 and 2015 but lost its first playoff game each season.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dulaney Athetlic Department
"A lot of the seniors on this year's team have been on the team since their freshman year," Dabkowski said. "We haven't gotten that chance at a far run in states since they've been here. That really motivates us."
Looking ahead to this season, both Dulaney lacrosse teams should be prepared for the postseason because of the grueling schedules laid out for them. Both teams have already faced tough competition, such as Manchester Valley and Westminster, respectively, and still have a mix of talented public and private school teams left to play like Hereford, Perry Hall and John Carroll.
While there's a lot of big-name schools that jump out when looking at both teams' schedules, there's one opponent that always offers the biggest game of the season.
"Every single time we play against Towson is a battle. That's something that we prepare for every single year," Dulaney head girls' lacrosse coach Kristi Korrow said. "Even if one of the teams is having a down year, it doesn't matter for that game, because both squads come out ready and extremely motivated."
The Towson rivalry is another big part of the Dulaney lacrosse tradition. Before private schools began to become stronger powers within the Maryland high school lacrosse community, Dulaney-Towson was the premier rivalry in the state.
Nowadays, it's extremely important to alumni. Both Fiat and Korrow said when they see former Dulaney lacrosse players, one of the first questions they get asked is how Dulaney fared against Towson that season.
The schools are less than six miles from each other, and a lot of the players know one another, which heightens the rivalry.
"We all grew up playing with kids from Towson," Smith said. "They're 15 minutes down the street, so that's why it's different. We know who we're playing; we know those kids. In the summertime, we might hang out and go to the beach, but in the game, it's very intense."
For Fiat, the rivalry is as intense as any he's been a part of.
"There are so many connections between the two schools, and there's so much pride at both schools that there's definitely a chip on the shoulders of both teams on the day we match up," Fiat said.
With the boys' and girls' Dulaney-Towson games scheduled for April 28, the matchups should provide both Dulaney squads with the experience of playing in a playoff atmosphere just a couple weeks before the postseason begins.
That experience will be crucial, as both teams are desperate to bring a lacrosse championship back to Dulaney. So much of the history of lacrosse at Dulaney, Park said, is about tradition and giving younger generations of lacrosse players reasons to be excited about playing there.
Regardless of how this year ends for both teams, though, one thing is certain -- the players will always be a part of the Dulaney lacrosse family.
"Our programs try to treat all past players as family," Korrow said. "We want them to come back and support us, and we support them as they get older. Once you're in the program, you will always be a Lion."
Issue 220: April 2016