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PRESEASON TOP 15

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1 Severna Park -- With 37 straight wins and three consecutive state Class 4A titles, the Falcons have a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking. Year after year, they just regroup with loads of talent and experience, and this year is no different. In her 21st season, coach Lil Shelton brings back 12 seniors, including All-Metro defender Becky Shank, who helped the Falcons record 11 shutouts but also added some crucial goals last year. The 16-0 Falcons scored 49 goals and they shouldn't skip a beat this year with Jill Cook, Amy Noble and Sarah Horn returning to the line.

2 Fallston -- The Cougars turned in the most impressive defensive performance of 1994, racking up 15 shutouts and allowing just one goal as they claimed their second straight state Class 2A title. The Harford County champs (16-0), who have not dropped a game in more than two years, lost half of that stellar defense but they return strong backs Barbara Ordes and Katie Wirth as well as All-Metro midfielder Rachel Simon. Whatever the Cougars have lost on defense, they could make up for on attack. All-Metro Co-Coach of the Year Alice Puckett expects to have more speed, better stickwork and more power as the Cougars move up to Class 3A.

3 Garrison Forest -- The Grizzlies pulled off a rarity en route to the AIS A Division championship last year -- an undefeated season. They boasted one of the stingiest defenses around, allowing three goals in 14 games and giving up one in the AIS tournament. The Grizzlies posted 11 shutouts. Most of that defense is gone, but the Grizzlies (11-0-3) should rebuild quickly with the help of veteran goalie Jacque Weitzel, an All-Metro second-teamer, and halfback Cortney Foster. A powerhouse attack could make up for any defensive lapses because five veterans return on the line for All-Metro Co-Coach of the Year Micul Ann Morse.

4 Westminster -- The defending Carroll County champs bring back seven starters from an 11-4 team that lost to Northern of Calvert County in the state Class 4A semifinal. The Owls graduated the county's top scorer, All-Metro forward Kristy Matthai, but they return plenty of attack potential in Ann Brennan (nine goals, 10 assists) and Megan Magee. The Owls also return strength on defense with Nikki Cornell and Netia Little as well as plenty of depth for coaches Brenda Baker and Sue Hooper. Extra incentive comes with the memory of tough losses in the state semifinals the past two years.

5 Byrn Mawr -- The Mawrtians reached the AIS A Division tournament championship last year for the first time in four years. Even though they lost eight starters to graduation, the Mawrtians (10-3-2) should have enough strength to make another run at the title. Despite their youth, they have plenty of skill, stickwork and athletic ability. Returning All-Metro midfielder Emily Hickman and defender Gailor Large and adding transfer Kim Smith to the line gives Jeannette Budzik's squad a solid foundation.

6 Roland Park -- Losing 2-1 to Garrison in the AIS A Division semifinal kept the Reds out of the title game for the first time in seven years last season. Even though they lost all of their field defenders to graduation, Debbie Bloodsworth's Reds (10-3-2) return enough experience at midfield and on the line to make a run at their eighth title in 16 years. The defense has the luxury of returning goalie Meredith Shuey while forwards Hedy Born and Lizzy Bennett and midfielder Jen Murray should keep the attack running smoothly.

7 Centennial -- See capsule.

8 Friends -- The Quakers' 9-8 record last season was a bit deceptive because they won their half of the A Division. In the tournament, the Quakers fell in double-overtime in the opener. -- With a strong returning nucleus, they have speed, power and finesse. Most of the attack returns, so the rebuilding job comes on defense, where Carol Samuels' teams usually shine. The experience of forwards Lydia Reis and Susannah Gust and midfielders Emily Santos and Simone Stalling should keep the Quakers competitive.

9 North Carroll -- After losing nine senior starters from last year's 10-4-1 team, the Panthers should be rebuilding. However, a strong defense should keep coach Denean Koontz's squad competitive. A defense anchored by returning goalie Becky Bosley will be the Panthers' strength with Jackie Chase, Diana Vaughan and Tara Walker all returning to the backfield. The big question is who will score, but there is plenty of potential here for a balanced attack.

10 Severn -- The Admirals lost 1-0 to AIS A Division runner-up Bryn Mawr last year and they should make another run at the title this season. In their season opener the Admirals fell to Severna Park, 3-2, proving that they have the power to play with anyone. Offensively, coach Irene Sotiropoulis' team (14-3 last season) should be strong with a solid contingent including Jess Burke (who led the team in scoring last year), Beth Freedlander, Meghan Bauer and Kelly Mahan.

11 Liberty -- The Lions (10-4) shared the Central Maryland Conference title with Westminster last year, and their defense could carry them right to the top again. Seniors are the core of that defense led by Jessica Horneman, Ashley Meehan and third-year goalie Heather Carter. Some questions remain about the offense, although Danielle Gray and Kelly Grammes return with 10 goals between them.

12 Spalding -- The Cavaliers got off to a quick start with a 1-0 win over Chesapeake last week to avenge one of the losses on last season's 8-4-1 record. With more depth and experience, the Cavaliers have plenty of scoring potential in seniors Stephanie Paxson and Jennifer Thomas. But the Cavaliers are strongest on defense with the return of Amanda Gibboney and Shannon Cashour. Coach Mary Pat Bozel has the luxury of two talented goalkeepers.

13 Chesapeake-AA -- The Cougars came as close as they could to winning a regional title before falling in a double-shootout to Severna Park last fall. Once again, Jerry Raab's Cougars should be hot on the Falcons' heels despite losing 12 seniors from an 11-3 squad. Six four-year seniors return to give the Cougars a strong foundation, including forwards Kristen Bonk and Sara Keil, who should do most of the scoring.

14 St. Mary's -- The Saints lost just two starters from a 9-4-4 squad and most of their players have been together for three years. With that level of experience and the skill and quickness to match, coach Patti Lavell is looking for 12 wins on the Saints' independent slate. The Saints return a lot of power on attack especially in Natalie Brookman, who scored 11 goals last season, as well as Katie Busik, Shannon Riek and Ashley Rusk.

15 Francis Scott Key -- The Eagles are looking for their 12th straight regional championship, but they have some inexperience to overcome. Eight seniors are gone from last year's 8-7 state Class 1A semifinalists. Still, the Eagles bring back a handful of capable players for a solid foundation, including All-Metro forward Stacey Greene. The defense should be coach Mindi Wagner's strong point with returning backs Jen Wildesen, Carrie Kibler and Kristi Muller.

How the poll is conducted: The Field Hockey Top 15 is compiled by the local sports staff of The Baltimore Sun.

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