Howard County soccer is no stranger to dynasties, particularly when it comes to state championships.
A little over 30 years ago, Oakland Mills started the trend of stringing together consecutive state titles when their boys program won back-to-back-to-back from 1979 to 1981. And in the three decades since, county teams have managed to three-peat a stunning five more times.
Two of those teams, Wilde Lake (1981-1984) and River Hill (2002-2005), managed to win four straight crowns.
And if this year's Marriotts Ridge squad has anything to say about it, that list of four-peat champions could grow by one come the end of November. The Mustangs, with eight starters back from last fall's team that hoisted their third straight trophy, have a legitimate shot at a spot in the record books.
"I try not to talk with them too much about it because you don't want to put any undue pressure on them, but they do have a real shot (at tying that mark)," said Marriotts Ridge Kevin Flynn, who was actually a member of the Wilde Lake championship teams from 1981-1983.
Flynn knows from that experience as a player and now as a coach that a number of different factors play into going on this type of run. Having a guy to lead the way like senior Brad Martinelli, the only active member of this year's squad that also played on the 2009 championship team, certainly is a great place to start.
"It starts with talent and we've been fortunate enough to have some great players come through," Flynn said. "But then it also takes some luck. Sometimes it comes down to keeping your key players healthy and getting on the right end of those games that could go either way."
This year, the road back to the top figures to have plenty of those so called "50-50" games, especially during county play. Last year, for example, the Mustangs actually lost three times against league competition before regrouping to go on its season-ending run.
The wealth of talent from top to bottom in the county is arguably as strong as ever, evidenced by Reservoir winning last year's county title outright even with two league losses on its resumé. It was the first time that's happened in county boys soccer history.
Reg Hahne, who is taking over the head coaching job at Reservoir this fall, says the quality of play is as good as it was when he used to coach in the county back in the 1980s and early 90s.
"The level of soccer in the county right now is definitely as good as it was back then, and there were some great teams," said Hahne, who guided the Atholton boys to a state title in 1990. "It's exciting to be back and be a part of it."
The list of potential county title contenders is a lengthy one. Of the top eight teams from a year ago, six return at least seven starters. River Hill, Centennial and Marriotts Ridge each bring back two or more all-county players.
Even the bottom three from a year ago, Oakland Mills, Hammond and Long Reach, bring back the majority of their players and have their eyes set on turnarounds. The Scorpions, with 10 starters back, are a popular sleeper team this fall.
With the season getting underway Aug. 31, here's a look at each of the teams:
2011 record: 7-3-1 county; 8-4-1 overall
Top players: Seniors Kyle Courtney (MF) and Zach Foster (F); junior Jack Jacobs (MF); sophomore Tariq Pitt-Bey (F).
What you need to know: The Raiders find themselves regrouping after losing their leading scorer, defender and goalie, along with several other key pieces. That means a lot is going to be asked of the three starters that do return - Foster, Jacobs and Pitt-Bey.
Pitt-Bey, a real speedster up top, and Foster will be asked to shoulder the scoring load, while Courtney and Jacobs are good guys to build around in the middle. The area with the biggest question marks, though, is on defense where the team is breaking in four new defenders to go along with a fresh face in net for the first time in four years.
2011 record: 7-2-2; 10-4-2
Top players: Seniors Bradley Benson (D), Ian Dwyer (MF), Peter Vorel (MF) and Max Yarosh (MF); junior Danny Mooney (D).
What you need to know: Everything is in place for a special season this fall for the Eagles, who feature four starters in their fourth year playing varsity - Benson, Vorel, Mike Ward and Yarosh. In all, there are eight starters back and the other three spots are going to be filled by guys with varsity experience.
The midfield unit of Vorel, Yarosh and junior Heston Priestley ranks as one of the best in the state, capable of dominating in the air and seamlessly transitioning the ball upfield. That group also has shown the ability to contribute offensively, with Yarosh leading the team with 13 points last season. Defensively, the team has three starters back in front of experienced goalie Jackson Bicknell. Last year the team improved by four county victories to finish in third place and, if things continue progressing like anticipated, a county title is a realistic possibility.
2011 record: 4-4-3; 5-6-3
Top players: Seniors Brett Kellaher (MF) and Christian Von Rautenkranz (MF); junior Zack Haussler.
What you need to know: After several consecutive years in the county basement, the Gladiators were one of the league's most improved teams in 2011. Now, with eight starters back, the program has a legitimate shot to play its way into the county's upper tier. Haussler in goal serves as the team's anchor, stopping 87 percent of the shots that came his way as a sophomore. His play in net, combined with the backline of Brenden Caffey, Adam Ditman, Bryce Helensky and Tyler Wasson, should keep Glenelg in nearly every game.
Just as important to a breakthrough year, though, will be the midfield play led by Von Rautenkranz and Kellaher. Their strength and vision really stand out according to coach Andrew Shearer. Also keep an eye on Ian Vincent, Sam Harris and Braeden Beliczky to have impact seasons.
2011 record: 2-9-0; 3-10-0
Top players: Seniors Jon Lippitt (F), Colin Mason (D) and Elliott Quinteros (MF).
What you need to know: The Golden Bears only had three seniors that played significant minutes last year, meaning that after a rebuilding campaign there should be some real positive strides this fall. There are 15 varsity guys back and the experience is well spread throughout the field. Expect the attack to be much improved and serve as an area of strength, with the technically sound Lippit (12 points in 2011) leading the way.
The real key, though, comes down to the team's defense keeping it in games. "(There were) too many games last year where we either completely let the game get away from us or we gave up a bad goal early and were forced to press," coach Brett Cutler said. Other guys to keep an eye on are juniors Nathan Borowski, Jake Fenicle and Alex Pecas.
2011 record: 5-6-0; 6-7-0
Top players: Seniors Ryan Binkley (MF), Shane Flynn (MF), Wes Furr (D) and Jake Spalding (G).
What you need to know: With seven returning starters, Lions' coach Nils Schroder says "this is the first year in a long time that we have the experience needed to compete in the county." The midfield features an array of experience, size, speed and skill. Binkley, who was second on the team last year with 10 points (4 goals, 2 assists), and Flynn lead the unit in the middle.
Spalding has plenty of experience in net, serving as a multi-year starter and finishing with 73 saves as a junior. Him and Furr will anchor the defense. A winning season may be determined how consistent the offense is, as last year's leading scorer Austin Phillips (19 points) graduated.
2011 record: 0-11; 0-12
Top players: Hugo Caldwell, Stevan Ditter, Jacob Greenberg and Bryan Landaverde.
What you need to know: Coach John Horner acknowledges that improving on last year will take strengthening all areas of the field and the good news is that he appears to have the players in place in order to do it. Seven players are back to go along with some talented new blood in the program.
Among the new faces, the freshmen trio of Josh Fawole, Quentin Valiente and Theodore Yang are all expected to make immediate impacts. Conditioning and playing as a unit will go a long way, according to Horner.
2011 record: 7-3-1; 14-4-1
Top players: Seniors Nick Applegate (F), Connor Delaney (D), Brad Martinelli (MF), Jon Muth (MF), Zach Santangelo (D) and Sam Willsey (D); junior Amir Najib (MF).
What you need to know: The Mustangs know what it takes to peak at the right time and return as much talent as anyone. Martinelli is the county's leading returning scorer (30 points in 2011) and is serving as a second-year captain. But he won't be asked to shoulder the scoring load alone, as Applegate (23 points), Najib (13) and Muth (10) are all established offensive threats. No county team returns anywhere close to the scoring numbers that quartet put up last year.
Just as strong, though, should be the team's defense anchored by returners Delaney, Santangelo and Willsey. Delaney made second-team all county as a junior. The only real question mark in the preseason is in between the pipes, as Marriotts Ridge will be breaking in a new face to replace injured goalie Pat Moore.
2011 record: 5-3-3; 11-4-3
Top players: Seniors Nathan Burris (G) Stone Chen (D), Ryan Dahle (MF), Patrick Palin, Luke Richardson (D), Lucas Rose (MF), Brian Shade (F), Andrew Tucker (F) and Emanuel Wright (F).
What you need to know: After a sixth place finish during the regular season, the Vikings pulled together and made a run all the way to the 3A state finals last fall. Seven starters are back from that team and, with plenty of seniors, leadership has been plentiful thus far.
The team graduated its top two scorers, Will Rice and Josh Palin, but still bring back four guys that registered 10 or more points in 2011. Tucker (13 points), Wright (13), Rose (12) and Park (10) lead versatile units at the midfield and forward positions. The defense is no slouch either, with Chen anchoring the group back there after making second-team all county last year.
2011 record: 2-8-1; 4-10-2
Top players: Seniors Shackeem Black (F), John Joseph (MF), David Last (D) and Hassan Mostafa (G).
What you need to know: The Scorpions have been building toward this year since Don Shea returned to the program in 2010. The system is in place, the guys have experience and now they just have to develop the confidence to go with it. Defense should be the team's backbone, with Mostafa holding down things between the pipes. Last, along with Eder Bruno, Ben Kale and Eli Phillips, are all strong and versatile defenders.
Joseph made second-team all county last season after leading the team with 21 points. David Bruno and Erik Rivas will join him in the midfield, while Black gives the team an extremely dangerous weapon up top. Of the bottom tier from last fall, Oakland Mills has the best chance to turn itself into a county title contender.
2011 record: 9-2-0; 11-3-1
Top players: Seniors Curtis Kosmowski (MF), Marcos Miranda (D), Gibrill Sheriff (F) and Javier Wardcantori; sophomores Carvell Akuffo (F) and Kyle Saunderson (D).
What you need to know: Three all-county players and seven starters graduated from a Gators team that won the program's first county title in 2011. That leaves new coach Reg Hahne with a rather inexperienced group, but the good news is that he has worked with a large number of them since he served as Reservoir's JV coach a season ago.
Kosmowski, Wardcantori and Miranda were elected as captains by their teammates and give the team experience up the middle and on defense. The offense could end up being an area of strength as well, with Sheriff making all county a year ago after posting 17 points from his forward position. He will receive plenty of support up top from Akuffo and the arrival of transfers John Lopes (Dematha) and Michael Peprah (Hammond).
2011 record: 8-3-0, 11-5-0
Top players: Seniors Michael Behrman (MF) and Kevin Kim (MF); juniors Derek Farley (D), Zach Riso (MF) and Jake Turney (F).
What you need to know: The Hawks have just three senior starters, yet still feature one of the county's most dangerous line-ups. "Usually we equate youth with rebuilding and inexperience, but not with this group," coach Matt Shagogue said. Part of the reason expectations are high is because seven starters are back, including all-county selections Kim and Turney. Turney was one of only five all-county players to register 20 or more points a season ago.
Replacing two-time all-state goalie Nick Voyton is the toughest task facing the team, but having Kim and Farley patrolling the back line will certainly help the transition. Riso and Behrman are both 3-year varsity guys that will assume even bigger roles this fall, while freshmen Donovan Pines and Mike Heitzmann are expected to make immediate impacts.
2011 record: 4-6-1; 6-8-2
Top players: Seniors Brian Dubois (F) and Jadon Ramsing (MF); junior Zach Smythe.
What you need to know: Jonathan Robinson takes over as coach of a Wildecat team that has its sights set on a return to the county's upper tier and there are plenty of experienced upperclassmen to aid them in that journey. "We have a great senior class with a lot of leaders," Robinson said.
Dubois and Ramsing lead the senior group that also includes defenders Colin Tiffey and Jack Dibattista, along with midfielder Sam Worchesky. The defense is in good hands, being led by a second-team all-county guy in Smythe in front of new goalie Patrick Riley. The key will be generating offense, as the team's top three scorers from a season ago graduated.
2011 record: 0-16-0 MIAA B; 0-17-0
Top players: Seniors Aleksander Chernoff (D) and Greg Wootton (F); sophomore Griffin Keane (MF); freshman Eric Wootton (G).
What you need to know: The Dragons are wiping the slate clean after a down year, having lost its lone All-Conference performer (Sam McAuliffe) and welcoming a new coach into the fold (Glenn Hayman). Hayman arrives from Roanoke College, where he had served as an assistant coach since 2007. He also has local ties, having played on two state championship teams at Oakland Mills (1998-1999).
The hope is that some of that winning mentality rubs off as the program begins to rebuild. Greg Wootton, one of the elder statesmen on a young team, will be asked to shoulder a good chunk of the scoring load along with Keane. Chernoff will anchor a defensive unit breaking in a freshman goalie. Hayman says he expects his squad to improve rapidly throughout the fall.
2011 record: 9-2-2 MIAA C; 11-4-2
Top players: Seniors Mark Ahrens (D), Jordan Gorsuch (F) and Jon Hamilton (G).
What you need to know: Nine guys are back from a Yellowjackets squad that returned to its place among the top teams in the MIAA C Conference last fall. That experience should allow the team to keep pace with the league's other powerhouse programs, Gerstell and Mt. Carmel.
Balance may be Chapelgate's biggest asset by season's end, with key players scattered all over the field. There are no captains, but leadership roles have been assumed by the team's senior core. Gorsuch has developed into a consistent offensive threat, Ahrens is a tireless worker and Hamilton has deceiving "quickness and speed" in net, according to coach Jason Bennett.