Going into past soccer seasons in recent years in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, the picture was always fairly clear.
McDonogh had the advantage in offensive firepower with the help of graduated forward Mike Gamble among others. Gilman made teams earn everything they got with a hard-nosed defense led by graduated goalkeeper Andrew Harris.
Loyola and Archbishop Curley were talented and always a considerable threat with Mount St. Joseph also in that mix.
As for this season, with league play opening this afternoon with a tasty first-course of games, things are a little more cloudy.
An abundance of talent will once again be assembled throughout the league with The Sun's Top 15 rankings providing proof.
Defending league champion McDonogh, currently at No. 1, leads a list of six league teams among the top eight. Today's schedule features No. 1 McDonogh at No. 3 Archbishop Curley (4 p.m.); No. 2 Loyola at No. 7 Mount St. Joseph (4 p.m.); No. 4 Gilman visits No. 8 Calvert Hall Friday at 7 p.m.
"There's definitely more balance this season," Archbishop Curley coach Barry Stitz said. "In other years, we had some balance, but there was always clear-cut favorites going in. This year, I'm not sure there's a clear cut favorite."
Instead, Stitz and other coaches around the league agree that the key to success for teams will be improving as the season goes on, finding players who will take on the challenge of bigger roles and coming into the stretch run healthy and playing top-notch ball.
"It’s closer than it’s ever been and it’s anybody’s game," McDonogh coach Steve Nichols said. "I think anybody can beat anybody, so it’s going to be an interesting season. My message to the team every day is if we continue to grow and develop we can be right there at the end."
McDonogh will lean on four-year starting goalkeeper Matt Sanchez while a talented group meshes. Loyola has the league's finest one-two punch in seniors Jeremy and Michael DeGraffenreidt with a quality mix of returning players and newcomers. Curley features gifted senior midfielder Michael Sauers to go with a strong supporting cast highlighted by a sturdy defense.