Western coach Breezy Bishop is not one to rest on her laurels. She just hopes her team won't rest on its either.
With two first-team All-Metro selections returning from last season's 27-0 squad, the Doves, ranked No. 3 in the nation by Street & Smith's, appear to be a notch above everyone else in the area.
So Bishop is pleased, right? Wrong.
"I don't know if they're hungry," said Bishop, who has compiled a 261-23 record in 17 seasons at Western. "I don't know if they want to go beyond being a good team to an extraordinary team. The jury is still out."
If the Doves lack desire, it is probably their only weakness. Led by 6-foot-2 senior center Dana Johnson and 6-0 sophomore guard Kisha Ford, Western should beat most teams on talent alone.
Western has spent most of the past two seasons ranked No. 1 in the area -- including all of last season -- and it begins this season in the same spot. No. 4 Walbrook again figures to be the Doves' toughest competition in the City-Wide League. Lake Clifton, with four 6-footers, could surprise.
The rest of the teams in The Sun's top 10 appear vulnerable. No. 2 Mount Hebron -- the defending Class 2A state champion -- and No. 3 St. Mary's each have a loss -- the Vikings were routed, 60-26, by Downington (Pa.) during the past weekend and St. Mary's fell to Cardinal O'Hara from Philadelphia in its opener. No. 5 Seton Keough dropped its opener to Mount Hebron and No. 8 Severna Park was beaten by Largo.
Mount Hebron is favored to win its 11th Howard County League title in 13 seasons under coach Dave Greenberg, with Oakland Mills expected to be its top challenger.
Two-time defending Class 4A state champion Broadneck and two-time defending Catholic League champion Seton Keough have dominated their leagues the past two seasons, but that may change this season.
The Anne Arundel County 4A League figures to be more competitive with No. 7 Old Mill, Severna Park, North County -- the product of the merger between Brooklyn Park and Andover -- and Broadneck all expected to contend for the league title. The first big Anne Arundel county game pits Broadneck against Severna Park today.
St. Mary's has finished second to Seton Keough in the Catholic League the past two seasons, having lost all six meetings with the Gators, including the last two Catholic League tournament finals. But with almost everyone back for the Saints, and Seton Keough having lost three starters, St. Mary's may finally be able to overtake the Gators.
Here's a look at the area's top 10 teams:
1. 1. WESTERN: Three starters return for the Doves: Johnson, Ford and 5-7 senior G Keya Woods. Returning sophomores Erika Dailey (5-2 G) and Kelly Evans (6-1 F-G) also started at times last season. Johnson provides Western with a strong inside game, and Ford and Evans are each inside-outside threats. Bishop has three players up from the junior varsity who are 6-0 or taller, but she said her bench is not as strong as last season's due to inexperience.
1. 2. MOUNT HEBRON: Five players that had significant playing time on last season's 23-1 squad return. Senior G Cescili Drake (5-6) averaged 5.0 steals last season and is the leader of the Vikings' trapping defense. Senior G Christy McCauley (5-6), 5-9 senior F Andrea Day and 5-9 sophomore F Sandra Benson also return. Greenberg said the health of 5-1 sophomore G Erica McCauley (Christy's sister) is crucial to the team's success. She played in only 13 games last season due to a back injury, but has showed no sign of injury thus far. Greenberg has a luxury this season -- 6-0 sophomore F Kris Bryant, Mount Hebron's tallest player ever.
1. 3. ST. MARY'S: The Saints return 6-0 senior F Laura Coakley (19.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) -- and a lot more. Everyone but Sarah Bannat -- who transferred to Broadneck -- returns from last season's 23-6 team. Among them are 5-9 senior F Heather Greenlee (8.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and 5-5 junior G Randall Goldsborough (10.0 ppg). Freshman Bridget Smith (5-5) will start at point guard, and St. Mary's coach Carmine Blades said her outside shooting ability will prevent teams from playing defenses designed to stop Coakley and Goldsborough.
1. 4. WALBROOK: Coach Pete Connally summed up the forecast for Walbrook this season: "If we can get a whole season out of [6-5 junior C] Tabitha Chambers, we'll be in good shape. She changes the whole complexion." Chambers has missed the better part of the last two seasons with ligament damage to her knees, but she has had surgery on both knees and Connally said she has been moving well in practice. The Warriors, 15-5 last season, will have a quick backcourt in sophomores Tina Fauntleroy (5-5) and Lakeisha Dukes (5-6).
1. 5. SETON KEOUGH: This season the Gators will rely on strong play from their backcourt, a reversal of last season. Coach Trish Cook, who is stepping down after this season after 17 years at Archbishop Keough and Seton Keough, lost her starting frontcourt from last season's 22-4 squad to graduation. Senior guards Melissa Cuneo (5-10) and Kelly Hines (5-7) are four-year varsity players. Cook said senior forwards Colleen Kelly (5-8) and Mickie Burns (5-7) have been her most consistent players thus far.
1. 6. OAKLAND MILLS: With four starters returning, coach Teresa Waters' goal of a Class 3A state semifinal appearance is plausible. The Scorpions, 19-4 last season, were eliminated in last season's Class 3A, Region I final by Thomas Johnson -- a team they had beaten twice during the regular season. Oakland Mills had also defeated eventual Class 3A state champion Great Mills prior to the playoffs. Senior G Mia Dammen (5-8) averaged 14.5 ppg and 10.0 steals last season. Senior F Christine Copeland (5-10) averaged 10.0 rpg. Also returning are 5-9 senior F Andrea Romich and 5-6 senior point G Stefanie Magro.
1. 7. OLD MILL: The Patriots finished strong last season -- upsetting Severna Park in the Class 4A, Region IV semifinals -- and appear to be the top Anne Arundel County team. But even though coach Pat Chance has nine players back from last season's 16-8 squad -- including four starters -- she is still cautious about being named the county favorite because her team is loaded with underclassmen, including eight sophomores, four of whom will start at times. A deep backcourt is led by 5-4 senior G Sandy Johnson, who has been slowed with a pulled thigh muscle. She must remain healthy for Old Mill to contend. Chance said the inside game needs to improve.
1. 8. SEVERNA PARK: Coach Kevin McGrath said the Falcons lost 75 percent of their offense with the graduation of three starters from last season's 19-4 team, but Severna Park still has the ability to contend in the Anne Arundel County 4A League. McGrath said he has implemented a new system which will utilize the Falcon's quickness and compensate for a lack of height, and his team is still adjusting to it. Returnees include 5-9 senior twins Tami (point G) and Tina Riley (G-F) and 5-10 senior F Barb Geary.
1. 9. WOODLAWN: The Warriors, 22-2 last season, have made it to the Class 4A state semifinals each of the past two seasons, but were routed by Broadneck in the semifinals both years. Unlike Woodlawn teams in recent years, the guards will be the team's strength, and coach Mary Duckworth said her squad will play an up-tempo game. Junior guards Erin Graham (5-7) and Glenda Major (5-8) provide a quick and experienced backcourt.
1. 10. BROADNECK: The loss of four starters from last season's 23-3 squad to graduation will make winning a third straight Class 4A state championship a tall order. But with a trio of experienced 6-footers (6-0 senior C Andrea Macey, 6-3 junior F Theresa Cornish and 6-1 junior F Jennifer Chapman), the Bruins will have a strong inside game. Coach Bruce Springer said inexperience in the backcourt is the team's weakness.