As Howard County girls lacrosse begins its 26th season, there is no one clear favorite. Instead, there are two - Mt. Hebron and Marriotts Ridge - and it's difficult to pick one team over the other.
While most girls lacrosse games have a decisive winner, the Mt. Hebron-Marriotts Ridge outcome is often a one- or two-goal margin.
The past two springs, those two teams have split season honors. Mt. Hebron won the county and District V title in 2011 and then lost to eventual state champion Marriotts Ridge in the regional finals.
In 2012, the scenario was reversed. Marriotts Ridge won the county and district titles, but Mt. Hebron avenged its county loss in the region championship before losing in the state semifinal.
In a way, 2013 becomes the rubber match.
Each team returns talented players.
High-scoring Zoe Stukenberg, the two-time Player of the Year who is headed to the University of Maryland, is back for Marriotts Ridge.
Draw specialist Sam Brookhart heads up a determined Mt. Hebron team. Brookhart, who is Towson University bound, also knows how to find the net.
The first of their “big” games will be April 26 at Marriotts Ridge. Any rematch would be in regional play.
Although Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron are projected to be at the top of the county - flip a coin, it could be either team - neither squad can afford to overlook the competition.
Glenelg and Centennial come in the next tier and if not title contenders outright, often help determine who the winner is.
Glenelg has 10 starters back from last year, but will sorely miss Emily Russo, who tore a knee ligament playing basketball in December. Graduation hit Centennial hard. The Eagles have just four starters back, only two seniors and there is a lot of offense to replace.
Atholton, Howard and River Hill are poised to move up a level.
The most interesting story line involves River Hill. Amid on-going team drama, the Hawks slipped to the middle of the county standings in 2012, but new coach Kelly Berger brings high expectations and a wealth of experience. The Hammond High graduate was a college All-American and is an eight-year member of the United States women's lacrosse team. Before coming to River Hill, Berger was assistant coach and then head coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Two keys for River Hill's potential success will be twins Julia and Jenna Collins. The junior midfielders have made a verbal commitment to play for the Naval Academy when they graduate. Both are quick and athletic.
Among the private schools, Chapelgate Christian Academy should be the team to beat in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference. The Yellowjackets were 17-0 and conference champs last spring and bring back nine starters, including top scorer Emma Rufolo.
Glenelg Country School is in the IAAM B Conference. The Dragons have a small squad (15 players) so playing time won't be a problem, but injuries and endurance might be.
Games to watch
The county public school schedule begins March 21. Below are some games to watch this year.
March 26: Howard at Atholton, 5:30 p.m.