Two years ago, Western's track team won the city title for the umpteenth time, finished third in its region and ninth in its inaugural venture into the 4A state meet.
All things pointed toward improvement. But last year, after winning the regional crown, the Doves had a letdown and finished well out of the state meet's top 10 teams.
"We were nowhere near where we wanted to be," said coach Jerry Molyneaux. "But this year, thanks to the indoor season, we're already as fast as we were at the end of last year. In fact, I think we're about 75 percent better."
Molyneaux has reason to be enthused, with veterans like city and regional triple jump champ Janee Ward and hurdles standout Gabrielle Butler returning. Tamara Laing and Tamara Clark return to the 400 and 800 races, as do middle-distance stalwarts Elizabeth Johnson and Crystal Richberg.
Western looks like the city's premier team -- boys or girls -- with boys city champ Mervo struggling in the sprints more than in past years. However, the Mustangs are stacked with distance runners.
And in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, runner-up Gilman is the city's best shot at challenging Calvert Hall, but Curley -- with just four seniors -- is a team of the future.
Back on the girls side, Western should have little trouble repeating in the city.
Dunbar coach Cesare Forcellese, last year's All-City/County Coach of the Year, led the Poets to a 9-0 regular season and a runner-up finish to Western in the city championship. His top returning performer is All-City/County senior Christina Stansberry, who won regional crowns in both the 400 -- and 100 hurdles and anchored the regional championship 400 and 1,600 relays.
But Forcellese, who sent 10 of 13 competitors to last year's 2A state meet, was disappointed in his team's first outing.
"We didn't have the kind of showing I like at Carver, so we'll have to work harder toward the city championships," said Forcellese.
With Dunbar struggling, teams like Poly might step up, behind three-year performer Coretta Street, a sprinter, and junior shot putter LaShawn Palmer, who is coming off a fourth-place finish in the indoor states.
Mervo coach Ron Grigg has several talented underclassmen, beginning with speedsters Samantha and Aramah Johnson. "We may not contend with Western this year, but we have some stars for the future," he said.
Seton Keough of the Association of Independent Schools fields its first team in the school's history under coach Ernest Latimer, who is high on speedsters Chanel Hyman, Angel Douyon, Aarika Wood and Candace Murray.
"They held their own at our first scrimmage and weren'disappointed in what they did," Latimer said.
Mervo's boys boast second-team All-Metro James Carter, the Mustangs' most versatile performer, returning after leaping 45-6 1/2 for third place in the 4A state triple jump. Last year, he also won the city triple title, was a member of the nationally ranked 400 and 1,600 relays, and was a state runner-up in the 400.
Various combinations of Carter, hurdler Jason Panniel, and sprinters Royston Lyttle, Kyko Hayes, Dante Palmer and Sandy Johns will make up the 400 and 800 relays.
"We're lighter in the sprints than usual, but we have some hurdlers who I think will be formidable," coach Freddie Hendricks said. "We're not hurting for distance runners, though."
Middle- and long-distance veterans Garfield Thompson and Mike Curtis will be joined by Antoine Collins, Zakkee Hendricks (no relation to coach Hendricks) and Tyree Byron to comprise the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
Panniel, a senior, comes off an excellent indoor season at hurdles. He's supported by junior James Johnson. Carter and Palmer are among six Mustangs whose practice long jumps are beyond 20 feet.
Carver was a runner-up to Mervo at the Carver Relays, which encourages coach Walter Cole.
The team of Andre Falcon, James Rooths, Alphonso Adams and Damean Johnson were second to Mervo in both the 400 (42.7 seconds) and the 800 (1:33.1) at Carver. Johnson, perhaps Cole's best all-around performer, hovers at 23 feet in the long jump and 6-7 in the high jump, and soon could go below 50 seconds in the 400.
Carver has solid middle-distance runners in Dayvian Johnson, Jeimaine Clark and David Johnson. Ronald Williams should improve on last year's personal best long jump effort (21-8), and Jason Johnson handles the shot and discus.
Poly, whose team has swelled to 35 athletes under coach David Mack, hopes to ride the momentum of premier performer, Lloyd Vennie, indoor state runner-up in both the 300 and 500.
Speedsters Sandy Bullock and Randy Beaman, an All-City/County running back in football, as well as hurdler-long jumper David Peterson should score plenty of points, as will jumpers Tim Dent and Joe Pace, and shot-discus specialists Ahmad Hannis and Allen Brown.
Northern returns the city's shot put champ, junior Alphonso Griffin, along with sprinter Brian Purnell and middle-distance competitors Maurice Scott and Tim Smith.
Lake Clifton pins the bulk of its hopes on senior Brian Harold, who runs the 200, 400 and 800 and can compete in all of the relays, and Patterson is on the upswing with a turnout of "25 kids" under first-year coach Scott Delpo.
In the MIAA, Gilman's Greyhounds return every sprinter from a squad that won three of the four relays in the MIAA championship meet, along with 10 quality distance runners. But other than Howard and Pat Runge, runners-up in both the triple and high jump, respectively, and shot putter George Bielfeld, coach Johnnie Foreman is concerned about depth in the field events.
Hans Briville, Allen Hsu, Charles Howard and Terrance Whitehead were the members of the victorious 400 and 800 relay squads, and Whitehead anchored the winning 1,600 relay.
Senior Ted Lord, a two-time All-Metro in cross country, joins distance veteran Dave Chalmers, a junior, and sophomore Ted Wasserman.
Curley coach Gene Hoffman's enthusiasm begins with four-year middle-distance runner Mike Cuhl and sprinter Don Campbell, who followed an excellent year as the Friars' running back in football with an MIAA indoor title in the 60.
"I have two solid distance runners in Steve Moxey and John Supsic, and Tom Kratz [shot-discus] is a good thrower," said Curley coach Gene Hoffman.
All-City/County performer DeVaughn Mellerson of Mount St. Joseph aims to defend his shot put crown, and Jason Custer, Torey Trogden, Jemel Green and Craig Cohen represent the Gaels' middle-distance strength.