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.
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.
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.
Senior guard Anna Cowan and junior guard Sammie Albornoz return to the team after taking a year off. Returning starter Anna Mitchell (6.2 rpg last year) will be joined by junior guard Alicia Hsieh, sophomore forward Kimmy Eads and junior guard Mary Anderson as key members of the rotation.
Dani Wilson and Kemba Mitchell are key call-ups from the junior varsity team and freshman Ally Driscoll should make an impact on the squad.
"We are hoping to get out and push tempo this year because we have good speed at several positions," second-year coach Bobby Macheel said. "We also have three returning starters, which will help bring some varsity experience and continuity to the court."
2011-12 record: 18-1, 24-2
Top players: Seniors Emily Russo (G), Sam Heisig (G) and Kristen Yuan (C).
What you need to know: There is good news and bad news for the two-time defending county and District V champion Gladiators. Last season's Player of the Year Emily Russo (16.2 ppg) is back to lead the way, but all-county selection and three-year starter Sam Heisig (76 three-pointers over last two seasons) will miss the start of the year after suffering a knee injury over the summer.
Yuan, who stands at 6-foot-3, and Howard transfer Jessie Doermann (5-foot-10) are expected to be forces in the post, while sophomore guard Megan Taylor is a 3-point threat on the outside.
Taylor Zucco, Coral Price, Chelsea Henggeler and Lauren Wright are all underclassmen that should contribute for coach Don Beall.
"We have four sophomores and two freshmen, so there will be some growing pains," Beall said. "The young kids will have to adjust to the speed of the varsity level but we'll be okay. We have a very good defense and good size."
2011-12 record: 1-18, 1-20
Top players: Seniors Andrea Baker (G) and Cambria Conley (G); junior Keyuana Griffin (G).
What you need to know: The Bears will field an inexperienced team this season, with several players that are entirely new to the program.
Baker and Conley are expected to be the foundation to build around. Hammond will have to compete early on without the production of Griffin, however, after she suffered a broken finger last week and is expected to miss significant time. Sophomore center Jameelah Wallace showed promise last season on JV and should be a bright spot for Hammond.
"We will have to play with a quicker tempo," coach Raymona Reid said. "We're guard-heavy, but very fast."
2011-12 record: 13-6, 17-8
Top players: Juniors Anne Kinsey (G), Sydney Biniak (C) and Emma Hoesman (G); sophomore Jayda Gilmore (G).
What you need to know: The Lions saw what began as an inexperienced team make it all the way to the Class 3A East Region championship game last season. This year, Howard returns several experienced players, but may be a little undersized. Biniak will be a big factor in the post after averaging nearly eight boards a game in 2011-12.
"Ball handling will be a strength this season," coach Scott Robinson said. "We will probably start four guards but even our post Sydney Biniak is fast, and she's an excellent passer who can handle the ball."
Sophomore guard Jayda Gilmore and freshman center Berit Batterton will both contribute right away.
2011-12 record: 10-9, 11-12
Top players: Seniors Olivia Callan (G) and Destini Joyce (F); junior Imani Sanders (G).
What you need to know: The Lightning was a surprise last winter, finishing with a winning record in the county. Coach Kelli Cofield is looking to build on last year's turnaround with another strong season.
"It was our first year in almost a decade winning more than five games," Cofield said. "We had a really strong season (which was) quite surprising to many people in the conference."
Of the 11 players on the roster this season, nine have played at least a year of high school basketball. Long Reach will be led by Callan (10.6 ppg) and Sanders in the backcourt and Joyce in the post. Junior Gillian Engelbrect and sophomore Alana Ratliffe are expected to play major minutes.
2011-12 record: 6-13, 7-17
Top players: Seniors Brooke Sharbaugh (G) and Zoe Stukenberg (G).
What you need to know: The Mustangs are still in the process of building consistency in their program, which is only in its seventh season. Sharbaugh and Stukenberg were selected as captains, so their influence will be needed on and off the court.
Freshman Carly Miller and Victoria LaVeck will have opportunities to get some playing time early in their careers. Miller has shown to be a strong shooter, while LaVeck moves very well in the paint under pressure.
"We are very young this year, losing a few players early on to injuries, however we are more forward heavy than we've ever been," coach Kristen Reier said. "So I expect for us to be doing better in the paint than in seasons past."
2011-12 record: 11-8, 14-10
Top players: Senior Micky Bowen (G/F); junior Tianna Wallpher (G)
What you need to know: The Vikings boast 15 players on their roster, but nine of them are underclassmen. Bowen and Wallpher are seasoned veterans and will help guide sophomores guards Megan Konig, Meghan Doherty, forward Nia Crump (6.2 rpg last winter) and freshman center Gabby Green, all of whom will be key contributors to the team.
Coach Tony Bell knows that with such a young but talented team, the focus must be on the defensive end of the floor.
"We have to pressure the ball and create turnovers to control the tempo," Bell said.
2011-12 record: 15-4, 19-5
Top players: Junior Lauren Thompson (G); sophomores Fern Peters (G) and Tori Diggs (G).
What you need to know: The Scorpions were hit hard by graduation, losing former Player of the Year and last season's league leading scorer Jasmine Hill. Also gone are starters Kara Hight, Nicole Twardowicz and Patrice Jones.
This season will be a youth movement for Oakland Mills, which will lean heavily on Thompson, Peters and Diggs for leadership.
"The strong parts of this team will be chemistry," coach Seth Willingham said. "For having such a young team and losing a lot last year, the girls have bonded and really are working hard together."
2011-12 record: 12-7, 14-8
Top players: Senior Candace Johnson (F); juniors Zelor Massaquoi (F), Tara Thompson (G), Keri Rager (G) and Blair Bonner (F).
What you need to know: The graduation of senior leader Megan Fowler will be a tough loss, but the Gators return a deep and experienced team. Nine players from last season's roster have returned, including Massaquoi who was a second team all-county selection after averaging 12.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest.
Size, athleticism and defense will be keys for success and with a season of playing for coach Kyle Sullivan already under their belts, the Gators are looking to be challengers in the county race.
"One major difference (this year) is that almost everyone is already familiar with my system and what we're trying to do," Sullivan said. "There has been significantly less time spent reviewing and teaching the offense and defense, and more time tweaking, and teaching new looks and reads. More time has been able to be spent on team concepts and individual skills, rather than getting people in shape."
2011-12 record: 16-3, 22-4
Top players: Seniors Megan Sterling (G) and Tyler Triplett (G); juniors Jenna Collins (G/F) and Julia Collins (G).
What you need to know: The Hawks return a bulk of the starters from last season's Class 3A East Region championship and state finalist team. Led by second team all-county selection Sterling, River Hill looks to be in the thick of the county race once again.
Seniors Vicki Rowe, Jordan Masker and Andrea Nichols did not get substantial playing time last year but should see the court quite a bit this season.
"We are in essence going to be rebuilding and reloading for future years," coach Teresa Waters said. "I am excited about those players that have worked diligently during the summer and fall."
2011-12 record: 0-19, 0-23
Top players: Senior Kourtney Harrison (F); juniors Lindsey Williams (F) and Grayson Corbett (F).
What you need to know: The Wildecats have a good mix of returning players and an influx of new talent. Harrison returns for her fourth varsity season and will be a leader in the post. Williams will be looked upon to be a defensive stopper and Grayson is a returning captain and vocal leader.
Junior guard NiJah Richardson could be on the verge of a breakout season, while freshmen Brynn Drury and Rachel Lazris are poised to help out off the bench.
"We have had a young team for a few years now, and that young team has started to grow up together," coach Caitlin Williams said. "I think our ability to play together will really help us this year. The girls play to eachother's strengths which helps us work well together towards a common goal."
2010-11 record: 6-9 IAAM C, 9-15
Top players: Senior Jen Yahiro (G); junior Christina VanWingerden (G); sophomores Camile Keyes (G) and Casey Johnson (G/F).
What you need to know: The Yellowjackets return four starters and will be led by Johnson, an IAAM C Conference all-star last season. In her freshman year, Johnson averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game. Yahiro, VanWingerden and Keyes will provide leadership.
Freshman forward Jayla Powers should make an immediate impact, while senior Paige Davis returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Second-year coach Kortnie Smith says Davis brings "energy, hard work and heart" to the team.
"We have pretty intelligent players, so if we run our sets properly I think we'll be tough to stop," Smith said. "We're long on defense and that will be a key as well."
2011-12 record: 6-8 IAAM C, 11-10
Top players: Seniors Hannah Harbold (G) and Ogechi Nwodim (C).
What you need to know: The Dragons are an extremely young squad with seven freshmen on the roster for new head coach Ed Conroy. Harbold (IAAM C all-star last season) and Nwodim, as well as junior forward Mallory Pappas, will be counted on to provide leadership to the wealth of youth.
"I'm very confident in our guards," Conroy said. "Guard play and a fast-tempo should be the strengths of this year's team."
Sophomore guard Sabrina DeLeonibus averaged nine points per game last winter and appears to be primed for a strong campaign. Freshman forward Alayna Newsome has shown great promise in the early weeks of practice and could provide a little size to what is a short roster. Both players will be increasingly relied upon as the season progresses.