The expectations for the Hereford boys' lacrosse team were clear from the first day of practice: bring home a state championship.
This is a philosophy that trickles down to the youth level and the next generation of varsity players who have heard about that success from their family and coaches. The Bulls won six consecutive Class 3A/2A state championships from 2008-2013 before Kent Island captured the past two crowns.
The Bulls have nine state crowns overall and reached the finals or semifinals four times. They have the pieces in place to add more hardware to their trophy case this season.
"It almost seems unfair to the kids, but I see how even the 6-year-old Hereford kids at the rec level expect to play for Hereford and compete for a state title every year," Bulls head coach Sal Picataggi said. "It really is a collective community effort at Hereford that creates all the success. It's not a right -- it is a desire/goal/expectation starting from the elementary school years, and I know this team has worked to make this goal a reality. [There are] lots of great teams we will see down the road, so it is always tough to achieve, but we will always give it our best."
This season, Hereford has been especially dominant. The Bulls have yet to allow more than nine goals in any game.
"Our defense is quite honestly as good as any Hereford defense has been," Picataggi said.
The close defense of senior Joe Patti (Towson), sophomore Troy Tuveson (Air Force) and junior Campbell Carr (Mount St. Mary's) has been especially effective.
The short-stick defensive middies of seniors Mike Mozelack and Jake Nause, along with goalie Austin Williams, have been "smart, fast and quick" with a high lacrosse IQ.
"The key to the 'D' -- so many, but it is the IQ of the group -- how they communicate -- how much pride we take in wanting to shut out every team we play," Picataggi said. "Every goal we let up, they analyze how it happened -- this all comes from the best defensive coach in the game, Steve Turnbaugh, who has been doing this for three decades."
Sophomore long-pole midfielder Scott Middleton is already emerging as one of the top players in the area. Middleton was a major contributor last year, but he has progressed even more this season to become a dominant player. He is being recruited by several Division I colleges.
"He was a good varsity player last year as a freshman, but the offseason made him even more dominant," Picataggi said. "He physically grew, got bigger, stronger, and he is one of the fastest guys on our team. His stick is as good as any offensive player on any team we have seen all year and, most importantly, is a takeaway LPM. He simply takes the ball from everyone, is everywhere on the field. On our ride, he floats around and flies to the ball. He faces off for us in certain situations, also."
As good as the defense has been, Hereford is also dangerous on the attack. The unit of seniors Cole Quattrocche (Goucher) and Matt Lewis and sophomore JD Nozemack have created matchup challenges for most opponents this season.
The Bulls are now 11-1 on the season. Their only setback was a 9-5 loss to perennial power Severna Park April 8. However, Picataggi said his team learned from the experience and is determined to use that adversity to make it stronger.
"Severna Park was a good matchup and a tough game that benefited us in many ways," Picataggi said. "It was really a one-goal game, and we had a chance to tie it on a man-up situation with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. We got the shot we wanted but didn't convert, and they hit the player coming out of the box and scored to make it, 7-5. So, really, what we learned is the importance of every offensive possession. To convert when given the chance. We worked hard on all of the little things offensively to make things run more efficiently."