This may be the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, but in Howard County girls basketball, it could be considered the Year of the Freshman. Nearly every varsity team has at least one freshman on its squad. Glenelg Country School and Chapelgate, which don't have junior varsity teams, each have five freshmen on varsity. Among the public schools, Atholton and Mt. Hebron are carrying four freshmen and Wilde Lake has three.
The coaches wouldn't keep them if they weren't good and if they weren't planning for the future.
However, it's not the teams with the most freshmen that are tapped as the teams to beat. That early season honor goes to Glenelg, River Hill, Oakland Mills and Howard.
Glenelg is the defending county and District V champion and returns all but one player from last year's team. The Gladiators, led by juniors Emily Russo and Sam Heisig, will be quick and will play a hounding defense. Russo was Glenelg's leader in scoring, assists and steals a year ago.
It would be a mistake to overlook Oakland Mills, which finished second to Glenelg last winter, and return Player of the Year Jasmine Hill and a strong supporting cast. The Scorpions have never won the county title.
Plan on River Hill improving on last year's 13-11 overall record and don't be surprised if the Hawks are in the county title hunt. There's history there. River Hill has won eight of the last 12 county titles.
Howard and Mt. Hebron will also help decide how the season shapes up. Don't forget that as the cliché goes, any team can win on any give night.
Realistically, last year was last year and the teams are ready for a fresh start.
The opening tap
Here's how the teams look as the season begins. Dec. 5 is the first play date; county games start Dec. 7.
2010-11 record: 10-9 county, 11-12 overall
Top players: Seniors Audi Vitagliano (F/G), Amy Weinberg (G) and Emily Pattillo (F/G).
What you need to know: The Raiders have seven seniors on the team; Vitagliano, Weinberg and Pattillo are four-year varsity players. Freshmen Sage Mayhew (G) and Kalere Calswell (F) may soon be in the starting lineup.
"We're a senior-oriented squad that has a mix of underclassmen who are also expected to contribute," coach Maureen Shacreaw said. "Team chemistry is important and there is a strong bond between the players as the upperclassmen have welcomed the newcomers to begin the season in a positive way."
With 14 players, Shacreaw said she is planning to "go with the mentality of trying to run" and wear opponents out. "I think we should be OK," she added.
2010-11 record: 11-8, 14-11
Top players: Seniors Rachel Benzing (F) and Sadie Rockefeller (F), sophomore Brittany Anderson (F).
What you need to know: The Eagles graduated five seniors from a team that reached the 3A regional finals. Benzing, who missed all of last season with injury, and Rockefeller will provide the senior leadership for first-year coach Bobby Macheel. The Eagles, 12-players strong, are young. Sophomores Mary Anderson, Sara Downing, Evana Pino and Alicia Hsieh join Brittany Anderson, who played varsity as a freshman. A pair of freshmen, Kimmy Eads and Anna Mitchell, are expected to see major playing time as the season progresses.