Last year, the River Hill girls soccer team enjoyed a perfect 19-0 season with the Class 3A state crown and the area's No. 1 ranking in hand.
With most of its starters back -- led by the dynamic one-two punch of Sheridan Street and Alex Hamer -- many believed the team would once again roll this season.
But it wasn't that easy. The No. 5 Hawks (9-4-1) faced a number of considerable challenges in what turned out to be a deep and talented Howard County field and needed to beat Wilde Lake on the regular season's final day to successfully defend their Howard County crown.
A number of those qualified county teams also compete in Class 3A East and will try to get in the Hawks' way of repeating as state champions.
River Hill earned the top seed in Section II of the region and will open on Tuesday against today's Wilde Lake-Glenelg winner. The bottom of Section II has Atholton (7-4-1) at second-seed Reservoir (10-4) on Tuesday, with both teams also having first-round byes.
Atholton is coming off a 2-0 win over Reservoir in the regular season finale on Oct. 17 and the Raiders also have the distinction of being the only Howard County team to oust River Hill during the regular season. On Oct. 10, in cold and rainy conditions, the Raiders showed more want, gettiing an overtime goal from Jaylyn Chandler to come away with a stunning, 2-1 win.
In the region's Section I, No. 12 Centennial (9-2-2) appears to be the team to beat, but the Eagles will have to regroup from a poor finish to the regular season.
After an impressive 4-0 win over No. 14 Marriotts Ridge on Oct. 11, they were in position to get a share of the Howard County crown but slipped. A 2-2 tie against Mount Hebron -- who they may see in the sectional final -- followed by a 2-1 loss to Reservoir in the last week of the season proved costly.
River Hill and Centennial battled to a 0-0 tie on Oct. 4.
Players to watch in the region -- in addition to the players already mentioned above -- include Reservoir's Keri Rager, Centennial's Anna Mitchell and Carolyn Eichhorn, and River Hill's Callie Allen and Jessica Hopkins.