What do the public school girls soccer coaches have in common again this season? As usual, each has closely scrutinized the Severna Park program, looking for a chink in the Falcons' time-tested armor.
"You can't stay at the top forever," said Severna Park coach Joyce Stefancik. "Everybody will be trying to knock us off."
Many have tried, and failed. The three-time defending state champions have won 40 straight games and are unbeaten in their last 47 outings.
"What Severna Park does never surprises me," said Old Mill coach Bruce Sponsler. "Every year, you hear about them losing more andmore kids. They lose plenty of kids; they just never lose any games."
Severna Park and Old Mill are among the six teams in the 4A League's Friendship Division, joining Annapolis, Chesapeake, Glen Burnie and Meade. Queen Anne's merged with the six remaining county teams --Arundel, Broadneck, North County, Northeast, Southern and South River -- to form the Bay Division.
Among the local private school teams, Archbishop Spalding and St. Mary's will compete in the Catholic League's A Division, while Severn School joins the B Division. The Saints were A Division co-champions with John Carroll last fall.
The following is a closer look at the county girls soccer teams:
For Severna Park to remain the league's elite team, it again must replace a number of standouts who helped the Falcons outscore opponents, 67-5, last year.
Among the seven players gone are keeper Tami Riley, who posted 11 shutouts last season, and her twin sister, fullback Tina Riley -- the Anne Arundel County Sun's Player of the Year. The offense lost strikers Betsy Anderson and Michelle Cope.
"Wehad a little bit of luck last year getting us through an undefeated season. We'll need some more luck this year," said Stefancik, entering her 13th season.
"We have a lot of key positions to rebuild."
Not that Severna Park should tumble to the lower depths of the division. As Sponsler said, the only losses suffered in the Falcons' program involve personnel.
Among the players returning on offense are seniors Cathi Hanson and Nicki Cecere -- an honorable-mention All-State selection, junior Stephanie Roberts and sophomore Erin Wylde.
Junior Amy Carnaggio will replace Tina Riley, and senior Alicia Conine moves from reserve to starter at goalkeeper. The other keeper is junior Kristen Wilson, a novice in the nets.
The defense should receive a boost from freshman Jessica Hines, who Stefancik said shows "a lot of promise, desire and intensity."
Those traits, and many other positives, describe Sponsler's Old Mill team, which won the Region IIchampionship last season before losing to Oakland Mills, 4-2, in the4A-3A state semifinals.
This year's edition looks even better, despite losing six players.
The Patriots pack a powerful one-two punch in senior Teri Lee (11 goals, eight assists) and sophomore Michelle Salmon (17 goals, three assists).
Lee, forward Amy Tolley and fullback Jennifer Bostak are beginning their fourth seasons on the varsity.
Senior goalie Amy Drapalski is back. She started the first eight games last year before an injury forced her to the sidelines. Jackie Bardelli, then a freshman, closed the season in impressive fashion, giving Sponsler two reliable keepers.
Old Mill is seeking its third state title under Sponsler and first since 1987. The Patriots have won three region championships.
"I know there's going to be some tough competition this year," Sponsler said, "but I feel like we'rein as good a shape as we've been in any year to do well and make it to the postseason, and then do well in the postseason."
Another team accustomed to making the playoffs is Broadneck, which fell to Severna Park, 2-0, in last year's region finals.
The Bruins only lost one starter, midfielder Meredith Huffines, but Coach David Lord was forced to juggle his lineup because of injuries.
Senior Ava Tasker is moving to striker -- where she played as a sophomore -- after being a second-team All-State midfielder last season. Senior April Quigley, a sweeper last year, is playing at the midfield with a sprained ankle. Junior stopper Suzy Goodrich may be moved to another position while nursing a knee injury.
And senior Dawn Frederick, another second-team All-State pick, was switched from defense to midfield halfwaythrough last season. She's coming off knee surgery.
"I only started making some of these changes a short time ago, so it's been like starting practice all over again," Lord said last week.
"I expecteda lot more from them during the first two weeks of practice, but they're not doing the things that have to be done to win a region championship. And we're in such a tough region, with Chesapeake and SevernaPark. To get by those teams, you have to do the little things."
Another big season is needed from senior striker Michelle Meyer, who led the Bruins with 13 goals last season, and senior keeper Holly Mowry.
"Last year, no one expected us to do much. We won a lot of one-goal games," Lord said. "This year, we're expected to do more. No onewill let us sneak up on them."
No one is taking Chesapeake lightly, either, and with good reason. Coach Lin Sullivan returns a boatload of talent from last year's 11-2 playoff team.
Sullivan is counting on returnees Becky Thiele and Allison Nethen to step in and fill the void left by departed All-County performers Julie Smith and Diane McBee.
"I'm looking for Becky to be a big scorer, but Denise Perrone and Nethen should get their share of shots, too," Sullivan said. "I know we'll be solid on defense, especially in the middle, so it'll depend on how long the offense will take to get things clicking.
"For now, I'm just happy to be considered among the competitive group."
North County was competitive last season -- but not very lucky.
"We missed the playoffs by one-hundredth of a point last year. That hurt," said Coach Marianne Shultz, who returns just four veterans from a 7-4-1 squad that suffered three one-goal losses.
Shultz is building the Knights around four seniors -- Tonya Kolodziejski, MarthaHill, Melinda Faulkner and Lisa Garrison. But she also projects thatat least four freshmen and four sophomores will see plenty of action.
Kolodziejski, a third-year starter who scored nine goals as a defender last season, will move to the midfield. And Hill, who scored four goals as a midfielder, goes to the front line.
Hill is assuming the position vacated by All-County forward Angela Farace, the team's leading scorer last season.
"We seem to have a more creative offense than in the past. This is a stronger team," Shultz said. "I'd like us to be the team to watch, but there are going to be a lot of good teams out there this year."
One squad that Shultz is wary of is South River, with first-year coach Hillory Dean.
Dean enjoyed a turnout of 54 enthusiastic girls, including seven returning starters.
Shultz said, "I'm aware of his work habits, and I understand that he's got some good talent coming in."
Like striker Tracy Zettle, midfielders Bea Ulrich and Holly McCleary, fullback Kara Zifchak and fullback/goalkeeper Alicia Curron -- all seniors.
Juniors Dianna Niland, who has an edge for the keeper position, and striker Erin Early also were starters.
Zettle (three goals, two assists), Renee Howard and Ulrich are the top returning scorers, and Dean is looking for better offensive production to help reverse last season's 3-9 record.
"This team's going to turn the corner. The future is really promising," he said.
Glen Burnie first-year coach Ed Leibe, a former player at the University of Maryland, says his team is "in between rebuilding and having a lot of returning starters."
It sounds like another .500 season, but the graduation of All-Metro keeper Kim Myers -- who set the county record for career saves with 464 -- makes duplicating last year's 6-6 mark all the more difficult.
Myers, who went to Rutgers University, is a member of the Region I Olympic Developmentteam.
"That's a tremendous loss," said Leibe, an assistant at Broadneck last year.
Among the returning starters hoping to prevent losses are senior forwards Erin Sutton and Heather Smith, senior midfielder Abby Weldon and junior halfback Kelly Rodgers.
Southern third-year coach Peter Chow will get help from players like senior forward Lindee Sisk (12 goals) and senior midfielder Vicky Prince (seven) -- among the seven returning starters from the Bulldogs' 4-9 team of ayear ago.
All three fullbacks -- seniors Rachel Gladwell and Kim Smith and junior Jenny Jackson -- are back to assist junior keeper Nicole Gregory.
With seniors Talaya Barnett, Meicha Werwie and Elizabeth Pluebell, as well as freshman Becky Archambo, all vying for midfield positions, Chow may be making adjustments until the Bulldogs' season-opener Sept. 11 at Arundel.
"We've got some good athletes, and if they stay in shape and continue to hustle, we can keep our gamesclose," said Chow, whose team suffered one-goal losses last year to Chesapeake, Arundel and Meade.
Northeast third-year coach Grafton Ray expects a competitive season from his Eagles, though he says, "There are no weak teams in our county."
Seven starters are back fromlast year's 3-9 squad -- seniors Nicole Griese, Janelle Williams, Stacey Reynolds and Chris Surguy at striker, juniors Nia Queen and Victoria Dye at midfield, and Jen Vickery on defense.
Over at Meade, Amanda Simmons -- who led the county with 29 goals -- and team Most Valuable Player Kelly Dryden are the main cogs from last year's 6-6 group.
"I'm cautiously optimistic about this season," said Mustangs coach John O'Neill. "I have two new assistant coaches (Jonathan Putt and Song Chang) who are former Meade players, and I think that they may be able to start a tradition here. If everyone stays healthy, I think we can cause some havoc around playoff time."
Arundel would like to do the same.
Senior Michelle Harrison will move from her customary goalie position to defense, while Julie Hartman takes over in the nets for the Wildcats, who went 4-8 last season.
"I think the development of Hartman will be a key to our success," said Coach Greg Helms. "We've never really had the luxury of having a backup goalie, so I think it'll make our overall defense much stronger."
Annapolis 12-year coach Richard King expects his overall team to be stronger than last season, when the Panthers went 2-8-2, including six overtime decisions.
"We have so much more depth than last year," he said."There's no one on this team that I can say stands above the rest, so it's going to be hard to pick a starting 11."
Archbishop Spalding second-year coach Wayne Sanchez has more on his mind these days than wins and losses after the death of junior right wing Lexie Cano in an automobile accident earlier this week.
"Right now, the team is pretty devastated, so it's going to be hard for them to concentrate," he said. "I'm not the least bit concerned with the season at this point. What I want to do now is help get the kids through the situation.
"They're a great group of kids with a lot to offer, but this is a lot to ask of them. We have a lot of talent and a lot of ability, but we don't have a single easy game."
St. Mary's won't have many "easy games" on its schedule, either.
Lessening the burden on the Saints are 12 returnees, including seven starters, from last year's 15-3 squad.
"Physically, we're small with just three kids over 5-foot-5 and a couple barely pushing 5 foot, but we have excellent team speed," said St. Mary's fifth-year coach Jerry Tobin. "We have a lot of talented players and a nice balance of experienceand exuberance."
Randall Goldsborough and Mo McDonough will be looked upon to supply the Saints with some scoring, while freshman ErinHon will have her hands full in the net.
Severn School will have its hands full this season as the latest addition to the Catholic League B Division.
First-year coach Gib Fitzpatrick believes his teamhas the personnel to make an immediate impact on the division race. He's relying heavily on co-captains Julie Ayers, Robin Quinton, Jennifer Wassif and Jennifer Burns to better last season's 8-8 record.
"Our four captains will be our mainstays," said Fitzpatrick. "It's going to be difficult, but we're aiming to improve our record and to beready for the tournament at the end of the year."