Last season, Howard County saw vast changes among the coaching ranks, a new schedule alignment and ultimately crowned a new state champion.
Heading into the 2017 season not much has changed in those departments, as many coaches are in their second stint with their teams, hoping to make noise in their respective tiers.
Glenelg clinched the programs' third state championship last season, and despite being only one of four teams in the county to make a coaching change this spring, have set expectations just as high as years past.
"I think every season at Glenelg it's states or bust," said Glenelg assistant coach Alex Pagnotta. "That's the goal, is to win states. This year is just like any other year coming out. That's our goal and if we don't get it then we'll just rebuild and look at it again next year."
Pagnotta and Nicole Trunzo take over the program from long-time head coach Ginger Kincaid, who spent 29 seasons with the Gladiators, winning three state championships while at the helm. Pagnotta and Trunzo were both assistants during last year's championship run.
"It's tough," Pagnotta said. "You're just used to her being there and working hand in hand with her. I learned so much from her during the years it's actually made it easier, because I've been with her now, this would have been my fifth season with her, so I feel like I can go where we left off and just keep rolling."
"I know from last year with the transition year that I had to work with her really, really helped me," Trunzo added. "It was a big impact on organization and what's going on on and off the field. That was a really positive thing for me to work with her for a year and kind of get to know the program and get to know some of her ways, so that was awesome."
The Gladiators graduated just four players from their state title winning team. They return nine starters, including Howard County Times Player of the Year Courtney Renehan and first-team selections Alayna Pagnotta (attack), Caroline Kwon (defense), Georgia Esmond (attack) and starting goalie Maddie McSally.
"I definitely think that this year, after last year, there will be a target on our backs, but I think all of us are ready," Kwon said. "We have the right mentality. We're not taking anything for granted, anyone or any team. We're ready to hit each game. Our motto this year is level 10, so that's what we're going to go into each game with. We're working hard every day, so winning that state title last year was good, but we're not going to let up at all. We're hoping to keep that up this year."
Although Glenelg ran the table during the postseason, Marriotts Ridge won the county title. The Mustangs went 7-0 in league play and finished 2016 with only two losses, which came against the nations' top ranked team, McDonogh, and the Gladiators in the regional semifinal.
"I think over the years this team, this program, has kind of developed that mentality and their expectations are high every year we come into the season," said Mustangs coach Amanda Brady about state title aspirations. "We've really driven home the fact that we can talk about it all we want, but we have to execute, walk the walk and handle the pressure throughout the season. Being mentally tough... holding each other accountable and you know, if we handle those two things I think our success is going to be much great this year."
Despite graduating a stout senior class, Marriotts Ridge reloads with exceptional talent among the roster and are led by its deep 2017 class, which is ready to claim its first state title.
"It's interesting, you know every year you lose seniors and then you gain more experience," Brady said. "It hasn't been the focus because we have so many returners, and our seniors that are returning — I mean there's 10 of them. So for any team that is a great deal of experience and leadership kind of wrapped all together. A lot of them were around to see that first state championship, so they know what it takes. They know what the end result could be and I think at this point we're ready to kind of push each other to get there."
But as Brady said, they are not taking any game for granted, especially with a grueling schedule, which again includes games against the top teams in Anne Arundel County.
"Every year we always talk about not taking any team lightly," Brady said. "Everybody is going to come up against us and play their best game against us, and they're going to play their best game against Glenelg. And so, I would never say I would sit there and say it's just the two of us. I do think there are strong teams and strong coaches throughout the county that definitely has the ability to make something happen."
Howard and Mt. Hebron join the Gladiators and Mustangs in the top tier. Both programs are in their second year with head coaches Diana Carey and Lindsey Menton, respectively. The Lions and Vikings graduated some of their top players from last season and have a young group coming in and, as expected, both have the talent to surprise teams, but will need time to jell.
"I think it will take us a little time to get to where we need to be, because we have a lot of [new players]," Carey said. "It takes time to sort of mold it all and have everyone get to know each other, but obviously we'd like to peak at the right time. That would be nice."
Howard graduated nine seniors, but their departure leaves room for underclassmen to step into bigger roles. However, they have a solid foundation set with a premiere defender and draw specialist in senior Emileigh Scott, an experienced and talented goalie in senior Sam Sagi and a terrific two-way midfielder in senior Jenny Kinsey.
"I think that their leadership is definitely needed and appreciated this year without question," Carey said. "They are really taking those younger girls under their wing and helping them along and I think that is obviously key. But we do have some youngsters who are stepping into big shoes quickly. So we'll see how it goes."
For the Vikings, they return a standout in goal in senior Jen Schaaf and also bring back seniors Lexi Arens, Meg Pallozzi and junior Erin Demek, who combined for 94 points last season.
Centennial gave the Vikings good games during the regular season and postseason, and although it graduated two of its top point leaders at attack, the Eagles return experienced players on defense and in the midfield with seniors Ryleigh Ahearn, Madison Griffin, Laurie Bracey and Gabby Fairely.
"We will have to answer our defensive success with our execution on goal this year to be successful," said coach Bethany Cunha, who is in her second season with the Eagles. "Last year, we saw goals from only a handful of players and this year we will need to diversify our goal-scoring threats in order to be a more comprehensive offensive threat. Draw control and possession will be key to a winning season."
Centennial will once again be in the middle tier with Atholton, River Hill and Reservoir. The Gators return most of their core from last season and boast 10 seniors on their squad, while the Raiders, who made it to the 3A/2A South regional finals last season, will rebuild with a young group.
For the Hawks, they have a new but familiar face back on the coaching ranks. Jay Bond coached River Hill from 2004-2012 and posted a 74-51 record and is back on the sidelines. Joining Bond on staff is assistant coach and Atholton graduate Amy Weinberg, who was an IWLCA All-American while at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Some of the Hawks' top returners include seniors Devon Fillippone (midfield), Zarah Jamalooden (midfield), Annie Maloney (goalie) and junior Gaby Hamburger (attack).
Davia Williams and Michael Rhodovi are both in their second seasons with Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake, respectively. The Scorpions showed vast improvements from last season and are looking to continue building the program. Rhodovi returns his top point leader in senior Tess Kostelec and the league's top save leader in senior goalie Jenna Oler.
Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills join Long Reach and Hammond in the lower tier and both programs are moving forward in a sense. The Lighting are under first-year head coach Amanda Durso, who takes the reigns of the program from Coleen Delaney. Durso, who also coached the Long Reach junior varsity field hockey team this fall, is excited to rebuild the program with a young core of athletes.
"I am so excited to see what the season has in store for us," Durso said. "We are a very young team with some strong talent coming from our sophomore and freshmen classes. With that being said, we have some incredibly talented freshmen and sophomores who will bring the energy, enthusiasm and intensity that Long Reach needs to help lead our program to success in the coming years."
On the private school side, Glenelg Country makes the move up to the vaunted Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A conference after going undefeated through 20 games and winning its second-straight IAAM B title.
The Dragons return the county's point leader in Alyssa Arnold, along with fellow all-county players Julia Sheehan and Hannah Glaros. They have key additions in transfers Sarah Ayer and CeCe Bartley to add even more depth to a talented roster, which hopes to contend with some of the country's best girls lacrosse programs.
Chapelgate made a strong playoff run last year in the IAAM C conference and returns some of its best players in seniors Jenna Winand and Katie Rolewicz. But for the second-straight year the Yellowjackets have a new coach at the helm. Judie Puckett takes over the program from Ualani Schmitt and is hoping to keep building the program toward success.
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"Our biggest strength going into this season is the determination and leadership of the senior class," Puckett said. "They are a fantastic group of girls."