Howard County soccer is no stranger to dynasties, particularly when it comes to state championships.
A little over 30 years ago, Oakland Mills started the trend of stringing together consecutive state titles when their boys program won back-to-back-to-back from 1979 to 1981. And in the three decades since, county teams have managed to three-peat a stunning five more times.
Two of those teams, Wilde Lake (1981-1984) and River Hill (2002-2005), managed to win four straight crowns.
And if this year's Marriotts Ridge squad has anything to say about it, that list of four-peat champions could grow by one come the end of November. The Mustangs, with eight starters back from last fall's team that hoisted their third straight trophy, have a legitimate shot at a spot in the record books.
"I try not to talk with them too much about it because you don't want to put any undue pressure on them, but they do have a real shot (at tying that mark)," said Marriotts Ridge Kevin Flynn, who was actually a member of the Wilde Lake championship teams from 1981-1983.
Flynn knows from that experience as a player and now as a coach that a number of different factors play into going on this type of run. Having a guy to lead the way like senior Brad Martinelli, the only active member of this year's squad that also played on the 2009 championship team, certainly is a great place to start.
"It starts with talent and we've been fortunate enough to have some great players come through," Flynn said. "But then it also takes some luck. Sometimes it comes down to keeping your key players healthy and getting on the right end of those games that could go either way."
This year, the road back to the top figures to have plenty of those so called "50-50" games, especially during county play. Last year, for example, the Mustangs actually lost three times against league competition before regrouping to go on its season-ending run.
The wealth of talent from top to bottom in the county is arguably as strong as ever, evidenced by Reservoir winning last year's county title outright even with two league losses on its resumé. It was the first time that's happened in county boys soccer history.
Reg Hahne, who is taking over the head coaching job at Reservoir this fall, says the quality of play is as good as it was when he used to coach in the county back in the 1980s and early 90s.
"The level of soccer in the county right now is definitely as good as it was back then, and there were some great teams," said Hahne, who guided the Atholton boys to a state title in 1990. "It's exciting to be back and be a part of it."
The list of potential county title contenders is a lengthy one. Of the top eight teams from a year ago, six return at least seven starters. River Hill, Centennial and Marriotts Ridge each bring back two or more all-county players.
Even the bottom three from a year ago, Oakland Mills, Hammond and Long Reach, bring back the majority of their players and have their eyes set on turnarounds. The Scorpions, with 10 starters back, are a popular sleeper team this fall.
With the season getting underway Aug. 31, here's a look at each of the teams:
2011 record: 7-3-1 county; 8-4-1 overall
Top players: Seniors Kyle Courtney (MF) and Zach Foster (F); junior Jack Jacobs (MF); sophomore Tariq Pitt-Bey (F).
What you need to know: The Raiders find themselves regrouping after losing their leading scorer, defender and goalie, along with several other key pieces. That means a lot is going to be asked of the three starters that do return - Foster, Jacobs and Pitt-Bey.
Pitt-Bey, a real speedster up top, and Foster will be asked to shoulder the scoring load, while Courtney and Jacobs are good guys to build around in the middle. The area with the biggest question marks, though, is on defense where the team is breaking in four new defenders to go along with a fresh face in net for the first time in four years.