Soon after the South Carroll Cavaliers saw their bid for a state title fall short in the semifinals last year, they had to feel good about their chances this year.
A long list of talented players are back -- led by the county's top returning scorer in junior Amber Clutter and the top goalie in junior Kendra Pulis.
Off-season injuries have given coach Jim Horn reason for concern, but there appears to be enough depth to overcome them.
Sweeper Sara Wachter, who stepped right into a starting role a year ago and earned All-County status, will miss the entire season after having knee surgery. Midfielder Roxanne Paull, the team's second-leading scorer returning, will miss a good part of the season after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
"It's a big blow to the team. The kids really look up to both of those players on and off the field," Horn said.
"Morale-wise, we've gotten over it, but the physical part of not having them in the lineup still hurts us. A lot of these kids who were bench players will have to step up and take on a whole new role starting."
The Cavaliers still have the most talent returning in the county, and it all starts up front with Clutter, who has scored 34 goals and eight assists in her first two years.
Clutter no doubt will see her share of double-teams and still will get her share of goals, but Horn is hoping a player or two can step up and take on some of the scoring load.
Last year, forward Nikki Robitaille was the perfect complement to Clutter. Junior Anne Schaeffer and freshman Lindsey Vosloh will try to share in the role vacated by Robitaille this season.
"Nikki gave us so much versatility on the line last year and we'll need someone to step up and do the same this year," Horn said.
"It's important to have another weapon or two to take some pressure off Amber. Vosloh and Schaeffer have shown they can score and are adjusting very well."
As much as Clutter is expected to take charge up front, Horn also is looking for the same kind of leadership from Pulis on defense.
Three sophomore letter-winners return on defense. Jamie Baier and Carrie Tamburo started and Erin O'Neill also saw some time last year. Freshman Stephanie Meyers also should get her share of playing time in back.
Most of the team's experience is at midfield and there's plenty of depth. Senior Jaimee Isaacs likely will take charge in the middle with the help of junior returnees Dani Picker, Sarah McGinley, Heather Hopple and Heath Jacobson. Paull will add strength when she returns.
"Jaimee spent the whole summer in soccer camps and it's really paid off. She distributes the ball so well and can also step up and shoot the ball," Horn said.