Not many teams could lose their two best players, carry five freshmen on their roster and still retain their No. 1 ranking.
Then again, there aren't many teams like Western.
Although Player of the Year Dana Johnson has graduated and All-Metro forward Kisha Ford transferred to Bryn Mawr, Western coach Breezy Bishop remains optimistic.
And with good reason.
The five freshmen played for the state AAU champion, which was ranked fifth in the nation. They join a solid core of returning players from last season's team, including All-Metro forward Kelly Evans and talented point guard Erika Dailey.
"We're young, and the odds are against us repeating the incredible success we had last season," said Bishop, who led the Doves to a 25-1 finish and the City-Wide, Baltimore City Public Schools and Metro Classic titles last season. "We have good depth and incredible quickness. This team makes me excited."
As usual, Western and Walbrook are the top teams in the City-Wide League. Lake Clifton may have the talent to raise its game a notch to Western's and Walbrook's level.
The Doves will be tested early when they play host to No. 2 Mount Hebron on Saturday.
Mount Hebron is a heavy favorite to win its 12th Howard County League title in 14 seasons under coach Dave Greenberg. The Vikings also have a good shot at winning their third straight Class 2A state title and their sixth in seven years.
The Vikings, who lost their opener to Strath Haven, Pa., 45-42, have a tough December schedule, but Greenberg believes the competition should make his team better in March.
Howard County has perhaps the area's best league, with Hammond, Glenelg and Howard joining Mount Hebron in the top 10.
There's no doubt who the favorite in Anne Arundel County is -- defending Class 4A state champion Old Mill. The Patriots surprised many by winning the championship last season starting three sophomores and carrying two seniors on the squad. But with nine players back, another state title this season wouldn't surprise anyone.
St. Mary's is the prohibitive favorite in the Catholic League, which switches from a two-division alignment to one. Four teams -- Catholic, Lutheran, Notre Dame Prep and Towson Catholic -- left the Catholic League for the Association of Independent Schools.
Speaking of the AIS, the league considered one of the area's weakest in recent years gained instant credibility when Ford left Western for Bryn Mawr. With Ford, the area's top player, the Mawrtians get the nod as favorites ahead of defending champion McDonogh.
Woodlawn again appears to be the top team in Baltimore County, but Dulaney and Catonsville could overtake the Warriors this season.
Look for North Harford to set the pace in Harford County and Westminster to do the same in Carroll County.
Here is a look at the preseason top 20, with last season's records in parentheses:
1 Western (25-1)
* All-Metro 6-1 junior forward Kelly Evans (14.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game) and 5-4 junior point guard Erika Dailey (8.8 ppg, 4.3 assists per game, 3.4 steals per game) will be expected to assume leadership roles, as a crop of talented freshmen try to make the transition from the recreation leagues to high school competition. Heading the freshmen is 6-0 guard Chanel Wright, an AAU All-American who has "unlimited potential," said coach Breezy Bishop. Freshmen Danielle Davis, a 6-2 center, and Tesha Tinsley, a 5-7 guard, also are expected to start in the Doves' three-guard offense. Western is talented, has good size and speed and is deep at every position.
2 Mount Hebron (23-3)
* The Vikings lost three starters, but coach Dave Greenberg has plenty of returning talent, including 5-2 All-Metro junior point guard Erica McCauley (15.5 ppg, 5 apg), who leads a potent offense that averaged 59 points last season. McCauley combines superb outside shooting (44 percent from three-point range) and ball-handling and will lead a man-to-man defense that rarely should allow more than 40 points. McCauley should get plenty of backcourt help from returning 5-8 sophomore guard Emily Yanero (7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and junior 5-3 guard Sandy Lewis. The Vikings also should be strong up front with returning junior forwards Kris Bryant (5.2 ppg, 5 rpg), Sandra Benson and Tierney Clark.
3 Old Mill (24-2)
* Stacy Himes (11.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg, 4 spg), a 5-9 All-Metro guard/forward, will lead coach Pat Chance's talented junior-laden squad. Himes is a versatile player, solid in all aspects of the game, but the team has enough depth that it doesn't have to rely on her alone. The Patriots' nine returnees include 6-foot juniors Anne Chicorelli and Debbie Dawson in the frontcourt, as well as 5-9 senior Cindy Davenport and 5-10 junior Allison Wentworth. The backcourt includes 5-6 junior Chris Baer, 5-5 senior Amy D'Annunzio, 5-8 junior Lee Ann Lezzer and 5-4 sophomore Michelle Salmon, Anne Arundel County's Player of the Year in soccer.
4 St. Mary's (19-9)
* First-year coach Harry Dobson, who has taken over for the retired Carmine Blades, has seven talented returnees as well as several players from an undefeated junior varsity. The Saints lost All-Metro forward Laura Coakley to graduation, but they learned that they could win without her when she sat out most of last
season with an injured knee. Randall Goldsborough, a 5-6 senior guard, has scored 1,051 points in three years as a starter and was a second-team All-Metro selection last season. She will team with 5-5 sophomore Bridget Smith, an excellent ball-handler, in the backcourt. Seniors Kristin Flewelling (6-2), Amy Mikula (5-11), Kristine Manning (5-10) and junior Anne Donovan (5-10) provide plenty of height.
5 Walbrook (14-5)
* The Warriors have five of their top seven players returning, including 6-6 senior center Tabitha Chambers (15 ppg, 17 ppg), who can be intimidating in the middle. Led by 5-5 junior point guard Tina Fauntleroy (12 ppg, 6 apg), the Warriors are quick and adept at running the fast break. Fauntleroy twisted her ankle in a scrimmage and is questionable for today's opener against Patterson, but coach Pete Connally said freshman DaShawn Coleman is an adequate replacement. Also returning are 5-8 senior forward Sheranda Palmer, 5-6 junior guard Nikia Downing and 5-8 junior forward Lakeisha Dukes. Connally is high on freshman forward Jamee Greenwood, a 5-8 transfer from Arkansas.
6 Hammond (13-13)
* The Bears, who rebounded from a one-win season in 1989-90 to make the playoffs last season, should again be one of the area's most improved teams. Coach Joe Russo's team is young but loaded with fine athletes. Four starters return, including 5-6 sophomore point guard Kacey Williams (10.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg, 5 spg). Sonia Keiner (10.5 ppg, 9 rpg), a 5-9 sophomore forward, gives the Bears toughness up front. Junior 5-9 forward Kristen Moraz (7.5 ppg, 4 rpg) should increase her scoring, and 5-4 junior guard Jennifer Garlick is a threat from three-point range. Amy Hanson, a 5-9 sophomore forward, and 5-6 junior guard Samantha Andersch form a strong bench along with two promising freshmen -- 5-9 forward Tameka Harrison and 5-7 Tiki Nicholson.
7 Glenelg (17-7)
* Three starters return for the Gladiators, Class 2A state semifinalists last season. Coach Chuck Struhar, who coached Glenelg for 13 seasons before stepping down three years ago, also is back. Struhar promises rugged, man-to-man pressure and an offense with the emphasis on the fast break. He has the player to make it work, 5-6 senior point guard Tanissa Dorsey (10 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 spg), one of the top athletes in Howard County. Dorsey and 5-8 senior Jenny Leedom (5 ppg) form an excellent backcourt tandem, and 5-8 senior guard Sarah Jones (8 ppg, 6 rpg) is effective inside and outside. Junior forwards Debbie Snyder (5-11) and Dana Hoffman (5-10) will start after substituting last season.
8 Howard (17-8)
* Kristi Greer, Howard's All-Metro guard, has graduated, but the Lions have enough players returning for coach Craig O'Connell to be a playoff team and a contender in the Howard County League title race. Krista Fulton (11 ppg, 8.7 rpg), a 5-10 senior forward, is a strong low-post player who also has a good outside shot. Fulton and returning 5-7 senior forward Emily Petrlik (6 ppg, 7 rpg) give the Lions a steady frontcourt. Camille Powell (8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 assists, 4 steals), a 5-7 junior point guard, was one of Howard County's most improved players last season. The Lions' depth is questionable, although 5-8 freshman guard Mona Jackson has been so impressive early that she may start.
9 Broadneck (18-6)
* The Bruins lost two strong frontcourt players, All-Metro center Andrea Macey, who graduated, and Theresa Cornish, who moved to New Jersey. That means 6-1 senior center Jen Chapman will have to increase her five-point scoring average if Broadneck hopes to make its third trip to the Class 4A state semifinals in four seasons. Coach Bruce Springer has 11 returnees, including senior forwards Sarah Bannat (5-10) and Kennita Kirby Jones (5-11) and sophomore center Julie Barr (6-0). The Bruins are not as big as last season, but they are quicker and have plenty of depth.
10 Southern-AA (11-12)
* Coach Linda Kilpatrick, in her 15th season, believes her team has the talent to return to the Class 2A state semifinals after a two-year absence. All five Bulldogs starters are back, including 5-6 senior guards Talaya Barnett (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and Kim Smith (9 ppg, 5 rpg) and 5-9 senior forward Lindee Sisk (9 ppg, 6 rpg). Laekeka Wesley, a 6-0 sophomore center, averaged 10 ppg and 13 rpg, but she has been slowed by tendinitis in her right knee, Kilpatrick said. Sophomore centers Lisa Biederman (6-0) and
Leketia Mullen (5-11) will fill in for Wesley.
11 Institute of Notre Dame (16-6)
* There were no seniors last season, so coach Jerry Hahn has everyone back. The top returnee is 5-7 senior guard Melanie Vogel (17 ppg, 7 rpg), a second-team All-Metro selection last season. IND has added three freshmen, including 6-1 center Kortni Webb, who will give the Indians added height. Hahn said his team will be deeper, so he will be able to use more players.
The Indians are still young, with two seniors.
12 Bryn Mawr (13-2)
* Coach Pat Becker is excited about the upcoming season, and who could blame her? Western transfer Kisha Ford will elevate the Mawrtians' game. Ford (18.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.3 spg), a 6-0 junior forward, combines excellent shooting range with the best one-on-one moves of any area player. Center Angela Marks, a 6-0 transfer from Towson, adds height to the inside game. These newcomers join a solid nucleus of returning starters, led by 5-9 junior forward Julie Szymanski.
13 Mercy (15-8)
* There's no question that 5-4 All-Metro senior guard Stephanie Rohe can score. The key to the Sharpshooters' success will be how much offensive help Rohe (22.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.9 spg) will get from her teammates. Coach Mary Ella Marion is expecting bigger contributions from 5-5 junior guard Christa Rohe (7 ppg), Stephanie's sister, and 5-9 junior forward Lauren Szczepaniak (5.0 ppg), both of whom are returning starters. Gayle Belz, a 5-11 junior center, moves into the starting lineup and is expected to help on the boards.
14 Lake Clifton (15-5)
* How confident is coach James Monroe? He believes his team has the talent to match up with Western and Walbrook, and he has set the Metro Classic as his team's goal. The Lakers have four starters back, including 6-1 forwards Charon Davis (18 ppg) and Dena Freeman (10 ppg, 10 rpg), the team's only seniors. Freshman Natisha Ferguson (6-4) gives Lake Clifton even more height, and freshman point guard Lashina Gross (5-2) could be a player to watch. Key returnees include 5-7 sophomore guard Debbie Hyman, 5-4 junior guard Petina Avery and 5-8 sophomore forward Celena Falline.
15 Westminster (9-14)
* The Owls were hampered by internal problems last season and did not play to their potential. Westminster is starting fresh with new coach Bernie Koontz, and the Owls already have raised a few eyebrows with a season-opening victory over Severna Park. Koontz said he has high hopes for his team if it maintains a positive attitude and plays to its ability. Westminster will rely on the inside play of 5-10 junior center Kenya Warfield and the outside shooting of senior guard Judy Marcus. Senior Stephanie Morningstar (10 ppg), a member of the All-Metro cross country team, returns at point guard.
16 Woodlawn (21-2)
* Three starters return, but the ineligibility of guard Glenda Major, a second-team All-Metro selection last season, will hurt the Warriors, as will a lack of depth. Coach Mary Duckworth will use a three-guard offense, led by 5-7 senior Erin Graham (17 ppg). Junior Chris Clausen (5-8) returns at point guard, where she will share time with 5-2 freshman Anika Lee, who has impressed Duckworth with her scoring and ball-handling in scrimmages. Lee also will play small forward. Vera Rosebrough, a 5-9 senior, returns at forward.
17 Severna Park (16-7)
* The Falcons began their season on a losing note (54-43 to Westminster), but they have enough talent to be a playoff contender. Six players graduated and another decided not to return, but coach Kevin McGrath's team has more size than last season's. The Falcons have strong guards, including 5-9 junior Lori Sharpless, who scored 14 against Westminster. Point guards Nicki Cecere, a 5-4 senior, and 5-5 junior Amy Carnaggio complement Sharpless in the backcourt. Juniors Katie Marks (5-10) and Brandee Snyder (5-11) return to lead the inside game.
18 North County (17-7)
* Coach Sally Entsminger will try to build around 6-0 senior forward Renita Johnson (14.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 46 blocked shots), the Knights' lone returning starter. A void was left in the middle by the graduation of Kim Miller, North County's leading scorer and rebounder. Johnson will need help from returning guards Tonya Kolodziejski -- the Knights' only other senior -- and Nicole Faulkner. Entsminger said the team is quicker than last season, and she has been impressed with 5-11 sophomore center Joy Farmer.
19 Dulaney (14-6)
* Some coaches in Baltimore County are touting the Lions as the team to replace Woodlawn as the county's top team. Coach Elaine Lindsay, who led Dulaney to the Class 4A state championship in 1988, has four starters returning from last season's regional quarterfinalist, including senior point guard Courtney McClelland and senior guards Suzanne Bull and Laura Mackowske. Also back are 5-10 senior center Amy Luttrell and senior forward Danielle Jarosinski. Sophomore Aimee Vaughan will give the Lions added quickness.
20 McDonogh (17-0)
* The Eagles, the area's only undefeated team last season, have eight key players back, including 5-11 sophomore guard Sonia Chase (16.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg), the Eagles' leading scorer and rebounder who was a second-team All-Metro selection. Other returnees include 5-9 forwards Niamh Corcoran and Sarah Manekin, 5-7 guard Debbie Johnson and 5-9 forward Sarah Hill. Coach Becky Clark said she will put her talent to the test by running the ball in a fast-paced attack.
The 10 best
Player .. .. .. School ... Hgt. .. Yr. .. Pos.
Sonia Chase .. McDonogh .. 5-11 .. So. .. .. G
Kelly Evans .. Western .. ..6-1 .. Jr. .. .. F
Kisha Ford .. Bryn Mawr ... 6-0 .. Jr. .. .. F
Randall G'borough St. Mary's 5-6 ..Sr. .. .. G
Stacy Himes ..Old Mill .. . 5-9 ..Jr. ... G/F
Renita Johnson North County 6-0 .. Sr. .. .. F
Yolanda Matthews Milford .. 5-9 ..Jr. .. .. G
Erica McCauley Mount Hebron 5-2 .. Jr. .. .. G
Stephanie Rohe Mercy .. ... 5-4 .. Sr. .. .. G
Melanie Vogel .. IND .. ... 5-7 .. Sr. .. .. G
20 others to watch
Player .. .. .. ..School .. .. Hgt. Yr. .. Pos.
Talaya Barnett Southern-AA ... 5-6 ..Sr. .. ..G
Tabitha Chambers Walbrook .. ..6-6 ..Sr. .. ..C
Jen Chapman ... Broadneck .. ..6-1 ..Sr. .. ..C
Debbi Dadds ... Northeast ... 5-11 ..Sr. .. ..C
Erika Dailey Western .. .. ... 5-4 ..Jr. .. ..G
Charon Davis Lake Clifton .. ..6-1 ..Sr. .. ..F
Tanissa Dorsey Glenelg .. .. ..5-6 ..Sr. .. ..G
Tina Fauntleroy Walbrook .. .. 5-5 ..Jr. .. ..G
Kelly Foreman Liberty .. .. .. 6-1 ..Sr. .. ..C
Dena Freeman Lake Clifton .. ..6-1 ..Sr. .. ..F
Krista Fulton .. Howard .. .. 5-10 ..Sr. .. ..F
Erin Graham .. Woodlawn .. ... 5-7 ..Sr. .. ..G
Carie James North Harford ... 5-11 ..Sr. .. ..F
Amy Langville Spalding .. .. ..5-8 ..Jr. .. ..G
Steph. Morningstar Westminster 5-6 ..Sr. .. ..G
Laekeka Wesley Southern-AA ... 6-0 ..So. .. ..C
Kacey Williams Hammond .. .. ..5-6 ..So. .. ..G
Chanel Wright Western .. .. .. 6-0 ..Fr. .. ..G
Emily Yanero Mount Hebron .. ..5-8 ..So. .. ..G
Renita Young Wilde Lake .. ... 5-2 ..Sr. .. ..G