Most of the area's softball heavyweights remain in Anne Arundel County, which is where seven of the top 10 teams in the inaugural 1991 poll are based.
Top-ranked Northeast, winner of 56 straight games and the past three state Class 2A crowns, has The Sun's 1990 Player of the Year, RHP Kristy Zulka, with backup RHP Ericka Shade and an all-senior starting lineup. Last year, Zulka and Shade pitched consecutive perfect games.
In Class 4A, Andover's merger with state 1A power Brooklyn Park makes North County and junior RHP Karen Hay (10 career no-hitters) an immediate threat. Defending champion Chesapeake-AA lost only two starters.
Glen Burnie, Severna Park and Old Mill also make Region IV-4A one of the best in public-school sports (it has won the state championship every year since 1986).
Archbishop Spalding will be tested by Institute of Notre Dame, Catholic and Mercy for the Catholic League title. Southern beat Patterson for the city title, but it may be Western's turn.
John Carroll is favored in Harford County. Fallston, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and C.M. Wright also will contend. Dulaney (Baltimore County), Glenelg (Howard County) and North Carroll (Carroll County) are the early favorites in their respective leagues.
1. Northeast -- RHP Kristy Zulka is one reason the nation's No. 6 all-time win streak could extend 22 more games.
Zulka (17-0, 0.22 ERA) had 177 strikeouts and 11 walks in 128 innings, which included the perfect game and 11 shutouts. Zulka batted .347, with a team-high 26 hits, and handled 70 fielding chances flawlessly.
The infield of SS Stephanie Lazor (.385, 25 hits), 1B Melissa Scarborough (.310, 15 RBI), 2B Tammy Kuebel and 3B Jen Kisiner is intact. P/OF Shade hit .353 and scored 20 runs. C Kelly Tibbs batted .319 with 13 RBI.
2. f,bol,8.9,9.5Chesapeake-AA -- The Cougars (21-3), the last team to defeat Northeast (3-2 in 1988), have senior RHP Amy Jakubowski (10-2, 0.56, 90 strikeouts) and Stacey Matcuk (9-0, 0.38, 66). Both are fine hitters: Jakubowski at .426 with 30 RBI, Matcuk .313 and 14 RBI. They will be caught by Stacy Grokas (.352, 24 RBI).
2B Becky Thiele, a junior who hit .405 with 14 RBI, also will pitch.
3. North County -- The quick meld of former archrivals Andover and Brooklyn Park has been a pleasant surprise. "I was more nervous than the players," said 19th-year coach Sue Fitchett, who led Brooklyn Park to the 1A title.
Junior RHP Hay (16-8, 1.40), who won 29 games with 10 no-hitters for Brooklyn Park, leads a talented group of players returning from both schools. She struck out 243 and walked 20 in 148 innings.
From Brooklyn Park are all-county junior C Lisa Garrison (.470, 15 RBI) and senior OF Tonya Kolodziejski (.320) to complement Andover's senior SS Krissie Barton (.419), junior 3B Tina Armstrong (.429) and sophomore RHP Kristie Rinehart (8-7).
4. Archbishop Spalding -- Hitting is the only question mark for the two-time Catholic League defending champion (17-3).
Spalding has one of the area's top pitchers, junior Kim Sheridan (15-3, 0.56), and a skilled infield that has been together three seasons.
Sheridan, whose pitches are clocked in the low 60s, struck out 190 and walked 13 in 112 innings. She had a perfect game, three other no-hitters and is backed by strong-armed C Jen McKeldin, 1B Jackie Cordery (11 RBI), 2B Amy Councilman (.300, 15 runs), SS Nicole Dunleavy and 3B Kerri Endler (14 runs, 9 RBI). All have played together for three years.
5. Institute of Notre Dame -- The Indians (16-6), last year's Catholic League runners-up, will challenge Spalding with a team that has no seniors.
Junior RHP Christa Engleman (14-6, 1.82) struck out 155 and walked 49 in 131 innings. Freshman RHP/3B Lisa Riley prepped in Anne Arundel County's strong Riviera Beach program.
Also back is leading hitter and run-producer 1B Mary Burns (.419, 25 RBI). She and fellow juniors 2B Kate Colgan (a .935 fielder) and SS Chris Gallup (.356, 19 RBI) anchor the infield.
6. Glen Burnie -- The Gophers (13-6) have another outstanding team. One reason is senior RHP Mandy Albrecht.
Albrecht (5-3, 0.91) had 58 strikeouts and allowed 24 hits in 54 innings as last year's backup. She hit .346.
Melanie Scharf (6-1, 1.36) also will play third base. Other veterans include all-county 2B Michele Ackerman (.388, 15 RBI), CF Erin Sutton (.383, 24 SB), SS Heather Smith (.292, 14 RBI), C Lee Mallonee (.324) and 1B Christy Hutson.
7. Severna Park -- The Falcons (12-6) finally have pitching to complement a potent offense and hope to win their first state title since 1987.
Freshman LHP Jenny Spampinato shut out Northeast over the first four innings of a scrimmage. Classmate and RHP Jen Conner was almost as effective.
Senior SS Shani Cannon (.440, .660 on-base percentage) committed four errors in 113 chances. Former DH Lanna Boarman (.340, 18 hits) and former 1B Alicia Conine (.309, 17 hits) will play OF as juniors.
8. Old Mill -- Glen Burnie's loss is the Patriots' gain, and P Jennifer Schmittle's transfer from Glen Burnie could not be more opportune.
With P/all-county 3B Jen Bostak out until at least May with a knee injury, Schmittle, a Glen Burnie leader in several power categories, is welcome.
Nine players (including four starters) graduated, but all-county 1B Denise Sellers (.411, 2-0 pitching) and SS Chrissy Baer (.372, 21 RBI) are back.
9. North Carroll -- As long as senior RHP Michele Ament and her heavy-hitting classmates stay healthy, the Panthers are a solid pick to defend their state Class 3A championship.
Ament (23-1, 1.20) was the pitcher of record in every game last year. North Carroll lost only its starting catcher, and its top hitters are SS Sandy Johnson (.500, 38 RBI), RF Kristie McCulley (.480, 32 RBI), 3B Ronda Renfrow (.360, 18 RBI) and junior CF Vicki Jackson (.360), the leadoff hitter who stole 22 bases in 25 attempts.
10. Glenelg -- In her junior year, 2B Angie Beach hit .418, stole 38 bases, scored 31 runs and committed one error in 69 chances. That was a major part of a 20-2 season.
Senior C Tracy Martin threw out 18 runners last year. Senior CF Shannon McCartney (.310) and sophomore SS Lory Wineman were second-team all-county choices.
TEAMS TO WATCH: Aberdeen, Catholic, Catonsville, Centennial, C.M. Wright, Dulaney, Fallston, John Carroll, Mercy, Mount Hebron, Oakland Mills, Patterson, Southern-Baltimore, Western.