Glenelg senior Stephanie Asher talks about the unique skill of field hockey aerials and then competes against sports editor Brent Kennedy to see who can launch a ball the furthest. (Kelsey Hughes/Baltimore Sun Media Group video)

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Three schools — Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Long Reach — got Sports Turf fields over the summer which adds artificial turf to Bermuda grass as playing surface options for those teams.

There are now six schools with Sports Turf, but ironically four of what are expected to be among the county's top teams — Glenelg, Mt. Hebron, Marriotts Ridge and River Hill — still do not have it.

Two other county title contenders — Atholton and Howard — received turf fields last year.

Every field hockey team in the county is benefiting from an influx of talent from the Stampede and Warhawks youth programs. It wasn't too many years ago that field hockey players picked up a stick for the first time as a freshman; now freshmen are making varsity and pushing upperclassmen for starting positions.

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"All of the schools are getting in much more talented players in their freshmen class. I expect the level of play at all schools to be better and better," said Atholton coach Martie Dyer, who has two freshmen on her squad this fall.

While the overall quality of play is increasing, the six teams listed above still tend to have an edge over the rest of the competition.

Glenelg has won the county title six of the last seven years and has put together three straight state titles as well. All indications are that the Gladiators have the pieces in place to make a run at another county championship as the first step toward a four-peat at states.

Senior midfielder Morgan Philie, who raked in all-county first team honors last fall, leads the way for Glenelg. She was also named first team in both the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, while NFHCA-Harrow Sports named her first team Mid-Atlantic and third team all-American.

Strong, powerful, technically savvy and with a phenomenal aerial, Philie is the total package. She has committed to play field hockey at Dartmouth College.

Philie isn't the whole show for Glenelg, however.

Stephanie Asher (25 goals, 11 assists in 2012) and Megan Taylor (21 and 20) are the county's top returning scorers. Glenelg also has two outstanding goalkeepers in Amanda Hoyt and Noelle Frost

Although the Gladiators haven't lost a county game in five years, another undefeated season won't be a given.

Atholton won the Class 3A state title last fall. It was the school's first hockey title and, led by Rachel Day (21-5), a strong core of players return.

Coach Martie Dyer expects Day and Jen Bleakney to combine for 30-40 goals this season. Dyer also adds that Bleakney "is probably the best player in the county," and compares her to Glenelg graduate Alyssa Parker, a three-time Player of the Year.

Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron and River Hill all tied for third in the county last year with 8-3 records. Each team returns strengths. For Marriotts Ridge, it's goalkeeper Sophia Hamilton, who directs the defense like a coach and protects the goal like a brick wall. She had 149 saves and an 87.1 save percentage a year ago. Jenna Kerr (12-5) is the Mustangs' top returning scorer.

Quick, determined and tough-as-nails, Tianna Wallpher (17-10) will head up Mt. Hebron's offense. The Vikings have some rebuilding to do after graduating Sam Brookhart (F) and Maddy Fisher (GK). As always, expect Mt. Hebron to get stronger and more cohesive as the season progresses.

River Hill has just four seniors and only four returning starters, so the Hawks may have an uphill feeling in the early going as different people take over in new positions. Dani Schwab, Emily Marlatt and Jillian Kelley will anchor the midfield. River Hill will also benefit from the return of Sierra Kelly (GK), who suffered a season-ending back injury early last fall.

Like in a game of horseshoes, Howard was "close" last year. The Lions lost by one goal to River Hill, Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron and would love to flip the result around this fall. Howard opens its season by hosting the Betty Lang tournament. Then the Lions play Centennial, Glenelg, River Hill and Atholton in quick succession. "One of those teams is going to send me into labor," jokes coach Kristen Vance, who is expecting her first child later this month.

Glenelg Country School plays in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference where Mt. de Sales, Maryvale, Friends and Seton Keough are the teams to beat. The Dragons played all four schools to close games last fall.

Glenelg Country's season started Sept. 4 when the Dragons played on their new turf field against Catholic.