The softball powers last year in Baltimore County should continue to dominate this year. And the teams to beat in Baltimore City should be familiar, too.
But county champion Towson will be fighting off challenges from Loch Raven, Perry Hall, Eastern Vo-Tech, Chesapeake, Dulaney, Dundalk and Patapsco.
In the Catholic League, the Institute of Notre Dame (14-5 last year) should challenge defending champion Archbishop Spalding for the title this year. The Indians finished No. 11 in The Sun's final poll last year and were second in the league behind Spalding. Senior pitcher Christa Engleman, who may be the best in the league, will return for IND.
The Towson Generals (18-2) will get lots of help from pitcher Jesse Owens and shortstop Erica Hurtt. Owens (13-1, ERA under 2.00), picked as the county's top pitcher last year, will anchor the team. Hurtt can do a little bit of everything.
Challenger Loch Raven (11-5) should do well on the mound, as Becky Sutton returns for her fourth year. She also hit .470 with six home runs.
Jeanine Scheiner (LF/DH) and Gina Surock (2B) give the Raiders more help at the plate. Scheiner hit .435, and Surock batted .425 with an on-base percentage of over .700. The Raiders are inexperienced in spots, but coach Dave Scrivener said if the players in those spots come through, this team could go far.
Perry Hall and EVT also possess lots of talent. The Gators bring five starters back and have three freshmen who could start on a team that went 12-3 last year. Shannon Furletti (6-3) and Beckie Baker (6-0) split the pitching duties once more, and Krisan Pfeifer and Jessica Loehr will pace the hitting.
EVT (11-4) also has lots of talent. The Mavericks are led by third baseman Tina Lotz, a fine all-around athlete, who hit .367 last year. Pitcher Kerri Hedrick (.432) pitched nearly every EVT inning last year, and the team hopes for more of the same from her.
Chesapeake (13-3) and Dulaney (8-3) should do well again. Graduation hurt the Bayhawks, but catcher Amy Lohrig and strong defense and hitting will help. The Lions are going to rely on pitcher Julie Green and a set lineup this season.
Dundalk (12-3) will get lots of help from pitcher Katie Marsheck again this year. If younger players can develop, the Owls could do well once more. Patapsco (10-5) should get another productive season from third baseman Heather Amend, but the Patriots also need young players to step up for another big year.
Western (14-1) is the defending City-Wide A Conference champion and pitcher Tracy Gruzs returns. Gruzs, who was 14-1 on the mound last year, was also a .517 hitter for the Doves. Patterson (11-7), last year's runner-up, and Southern (10-10), a third-place finisher, should challenge Western for the A Conference title this year.
In addition to competition within the city, the Doves will get their first shot at a state title. In Class 4A, they could face county teams Dulaney or Perry Hall (No. 14 last year) in the regionals. Southern, which will compete in the Class 3A bracket, could meet Centennial (No. 4 last year) in regional play as well.