Omari Ringgold

Centennial senior Omari Ringgold is the county's leading returning scorer after averaging 17.4 points a game as a junior last winter. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing / December 3, 2012)

The first year was a breakthrough, the second was validation. This winter, as Centennial chases its third consecutive trip to the state final four, is the opportunity to cement itself as a powerhouse.

Returning three starters from last year's county championship squad that went 21-6, the Eagles enter this season with some inherent pressure of living up to the standard set by their predecessors. At the same time, though, this Centennial team isn't living in the past.

"I feel incredibly fortunate and I have a lot of pride in the fact that we've been able to achieve at a high level of consistency the last two years … to have the potential to be in that position again is outstanding," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "But we can't forget that this is a new year and a new team still looking for its own identity.

"Nothing is a given, especially in this county, and I think the kids know that. The way I look at it, we have to prove ourselves like everyone else."

Omari Ringgold is the leader for Centennial, coming off a junior year where he averaged 17.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. The senior is the only returning all-county first team player from a season ago.

With Ringgold as a go-to-guy, alongside returning inside players Timi Tinuoye and Joe Eads, the Eagles certainly have the experience needed to deal with having a target on their backs.

Nothing, however, is going to come easy in a county that looks to have plenty of capable challengers.

Oakland Mills, with a bevy of transfers highlighted by Lavon Long from Mount St. Joseph, has the look of a serious contender. Long recently committed to Loyola (Md.) and is a versatile wing capable of scoring from all over the floor.

Marriotts Ridge, Wilde Lake and Long Reach were all top four teams last winter that figure to once again be in the mix and don't sleep on Reservoir or River Hill, which were both under .500 in the county last year but figure to be much improved.

"Centennial is the top dog, but the county is there for whoever is able to stay consistent and win games on the road," Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. said. "If you can get hot in January and February anything can happen."

New coaches

After more than 30 years and over 400 wins, Jim Albert has retired from his head coaching position at Atholton. He'll be handing the reigns over to a familiar face, with his son, Jared, taking over.

"Playing for my father, coaching with my father … I've seen the tradition at Atholton from a lot of different perspectives," Jared Albert said. "It's an honor to get the opportunity to try and continue that."

Mike Coughlan, who guided Marriotts Ridge to a second-place county finish last year, has moved over to Reservoir this winter to replace Ryan Carson. In Coughlan's absence, Marcus Lewis is taking over for the Mustangs.

Lewis was head coach at Marriotts Ridge as recently as the 2009-10 season before taking the last two seasons off.

Opening tip

With the season starting for the public schools on Dec. 5 and already under way for the private schools, here's a look around the league:

Atholton

2011-12 record: 10-9 county, 14-10 overall

Top players: Seniors Dominic Bernetti (G), Luke Casey (F) and Ethan Shapiro (F); juniors Brady Acker (G) and Justin Ballmer (G).