Hammond's Gay Petrlik has a luxury this season that almost no other county coach can match -- most of her defensive unit returns.
With much of the county's overall strength coming back on attack, the Bears could have at least a small edge on the competition defensively. That's despite losing their best midfielder, junior Heather Brown, for the season with a stress fracture in her foot.
Offensively, the Bears shouldn't lose any ground on their opponents either with four starters returning to the line. Petrlik expects the Bears to score more goals, but they should be stronger everywhere else on the field as well.
After losing just two starters -- and Brown -- the Bears look as if they can improve on last year's 7-4 finish. They also hope to add a few wins to their county record last year of 4-3, which landed them in fourth place behind Glenelg, Mount Hebron and Centennial.
"They all went to camp and came in with really nice stick skills. It's just a matter of putting them in positions where they feel comfortable together," said Petrlik.
In the Bears' backfield, senior halfbacks Sara Tiner and Amanda Williams return to starting spots. Junior halfback Cara Stockham will step up after seeing action last season. Add speedy junior sweeper Taylor Castranova, who moves up from JV, and the Bears look pretty solid.
In the cage, senior Darcy Pietryka didn't see much playing time a year ago, but Petrlik expects her to emerge as a top keeper.
In the midfield, senior Becca Meier returns to right link while junior Erin Webb moves up from JV to play on the left side.
Offensively, the Bears bring back a couple of four-year varsity veterans in Alicia Paul and Amber Duckworth, the top returning scorer with six goals a year ago. They will play on the inside of the line with Bethany Thompson and Jill Hoffines on the wings.
To start off their season, the Bears face a killer non-league schedule, but Petrlik welcomes the competition.
"I feel if we're going to be competitive at the regional and state level, we have to play good teams. It's good for our team," said Petrlik, who has scheduled games against perennial state-level contenders Middletown, Fallston and Francis Scott Key as well as West Lake.
Petrlik expects that competition to strengthen the Bears for county play, where she doesn't expect to find any pushovers either.
"I don't count anybody out. I don't take anybody lightly," said Petrlik. "I think they're all pretty competitive. It's so hard to gauge this county until we see each other."