Jack Thomas considered playing high school lacrosse at a private school, but ultimately wound up going the public school route at Severna Park.
“I knew I’d be getting good enough coaching from a school I could just go to for free and get to play with all of my friends,” said Thomas, who is preparing for his senior season as an attackman for UMBC. “I didn’t have to travel to a private school for high-level lacrosse coaching. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Joaquin Villagomez is a senior at Severna Park and never considered going anywhere else to play.
“Why would I when I have Severna Park right on my doorstep?” the talented attackman and Towson University recruit said.
While many of the top high school lacrosse players wind up going to a private school for what they perceive as better competition and a better overall experience, Severna Park offers a comparable experience that many view to be just as attractive.
The Falcons have a rich history of success with 14 state championships in girls’ lacrosse and 10 in boys’ lacrosse, including the last five in Class 4A of the MPSSAA.
Since the school was rebuilt and reopened in 2017, its athletic facilities, which include two turf fields and a top-notch weight room, rival those at many colleges.
Plus, as Dave Earl, the coach and architect of the recent resurgence of the boys’ program, pointed out, it’s free to attend.
“That definitely helps,” he said.
Severna Park doesn’t keep all of the top players in its district away from the private schools. Earl said that one of the top attackmen in Maryland could be playing for the Falcons but chose to go to McDonogh instead.
Still, Severna Park’s academic reputation, coupled with its long track record of success on the field, causes many players to feel like they aren’t missing out by going the public school route.
“Kids come to school to play sports, obviously,” Earl said. “But at the end of the day, I think mom and dad want their kids to get the best education they can possibly get, and Severna Park offers that.”
When Earl took over the boys’ program in June 2014, the Falcons had fallen into a bit of a rut. They had not won a state title in four years, an eternity by their standards, and had finished 6-9 during the previous season.
Their stadium had been torn down to make way for the new school, and games and practices took place across town at Kinder Farm Park, forcing players to ride a bus back and forth.
One year during the playoffs, Earl said his starting faceoff specialist and top midfielder were unavailable until halftime due to Advanced Placement testing at school.
“Now, if that were to happen, we’d have some wiggle room and say, ‘Hey, we need to push this game time back,'” he said. “But that wasn’t possible when we were playing over at Kinder Farm Park.”
For someone who enjoys helping programs get back on their feet, Earl was energized by the challenge of taking over at Severna Park.
Prior to arriving, he spent two years as the head coach at Anne Arundel Community College, where he turned the Pioneers from a floundering program with 13 players on the roster into a 14-7 National Junior College Athletic Association Final Four team. Earl was named the NJCAA Coach of the Year in 2014.
The situation was not nearly as desperate when he arrived at Severna Park.
“All the pieces were in place,” Earl said. “They just needed someone to put them together in the right manner.”
Earl immediately implemented an offseason program that ran from September until the season began in the middle of March.
Players were not discouraged from participating in other sports. Rather, they could come in at their own convenience and work in the weight room or perform conditioning and agility drills on the field until they were able to use actual lacrosse equipment with the official start of spring practice.
All the while, players were getting more individualized coaching since they were working in smaller groups. The extra work they were doing during the offseason months made them better players and brought them closer together. Older players were paired with younger players during training to help foster a familial environment.
“It’s awesome,” Villagomez said. “We know we have a target on our back every season. So, everyone just pushes everyone to their potential. That’s why we are able to produce such great outcomes.
“All of the younger kids see the work the older kids put in, and that’s how it continues to happen over and over.”
During his interview for the job, Earl told Severna Park principal Patrick Bathras that he wanted to have a study hall period. Bathras assured him that would not be necessary.
“I said, ‘Really?'” Earl recalled.
Once the season started and Earl looked at the team’s collective grade point average, he noticed it was 3.7.
“I went, ‘Wow!'” he said. “These kids are smart and they are driven and they want to play. They also study and do what’s necessary to be successful at the next level.”
In other words, he had come to the right place to coach. Earl knew it wouldn’t be long before they were playing at the highest level again.
“I hate to use the old cliché, ‘Drink the Kool-Aid,'” he said. “We wanted players and parents who wanted to work hard, who wanted to win and wanted to become better people. That’s been our main goal. If we are successful at that, then the wins are just icing on the cake, so to speak.”
Photo Credit: Colin Murphy