Zelor Massaquoi

Reservoir's Zelor Massaquoi, center, is one of the county's leading returning scorers and rebounders from last season. She and the Gators have their sights set on improving on last year's fifth place finish in the county. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing / November 28, 2012)

The Howard County girls basketball landscape may have a new look by the end of the winter. Over the past two seasons, Glenelg has come out on top of the league's hierarchy. The Gladiators have gone 37-1 in county play over that span and the two-time defending league champions will make another strong case to remain at the apex with returning Player of the Year Emily Russo.

It will be a tough road to three-peat however as other teams have made marked improvements from a year ago and have the talent to dethrone the champions.

Perennial power River Hill, for instance, returns all-county pick Meg Sterling and graduated just one starter from last year's team that finished second in the league, won the Class 3A East Region title and reached the 3A state championship game.

Howard — under veteran coach Scott Robinson — is always a threat and with call-ups from a JV squad that was unbeaten over the last two seasons, the Lions could make an impact in the outcome of the league.

With several coaches settling into their second seasons with their respective teams, the expectations for success have increased.

Under second-year head coach Kyle Sullivan, Reservoir returns nine players including all-county forward Zelor Massaquoi. Long Reach has a stellar backcourt and some confidence after finishing over .500 in the county for the first time in recent memory.

Centennial, Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills are also teams that could shape the finish of the season.

Chapelgate and league-rival Glenelg Country School look to be players in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference race, but will have a tough time with favorite St. Timothy's.

The opening tap

Here's how the teams look as the season begins. December 5 is the first play date; county games start Dec. 7. The private schools began their season last week.

Atholton

2011-12 record: 5-14 county, 7-15 overall

Top players: Senior Hannah Keating (F); junior Margaret Tatum (G).

What you need to know: This will be a rebuilding season for the Raiders, who graduated seven seniors from last year's team. On the bright side, seven players — including four sophomores — return with varsity experience.

"I think our strength is in our guard play," said Julia Reynold, who is entering her first full season as Atholton's coach. "With that, we will want to push the tempo."

Sophomores Sage Mayhew (guard) and Kalere Caldwell (forward) are expected to make an impact as the program stocks up for the future.

Centennial

2011-12 record: 7-12, 9-15

Top players: Juniors Brittany Anderson (F) and Sara Downing (G).

What you need to know: Anderson — in her third year on varsity — and Downing are both returning starters and were selected as captains for the Eagles.