It was a no-brainer last season that Arundel would not only win the county championship, but a state championship, as well. Anything less would have been a shock, but this season lends no such guarantee.
The only guarantee might be a trio of region champions for the county girls teams for the first time since 1988-89, when four teams (Class 4A Broadneck, 2A Southern, 3A Andover and 1A Brooklyn Park) advanced.
A county 4A team figures to win the East region again, and last year's 3A and 2A region finalists in Broadneck and Southern respectively have great shots at the final four at UMBC in mid-March.
County coaches are mentioning Annapolis and Meade in the same breath with defending state-champion Arundel. Some also are throwing in Severna Park and North County as dark-horses in what should be a very competitive Class 4A East region.
There is a true balance of power within the county league, where Arundel, Annapolis and Severna Park are perched in the south division while Meade and North County are in the north with defending division champion Old Mill.
Annapolis has everybody back except point guard Stephy Samaras, and the Panthers have the edge in height with Emily Dammeyer (6-3), Jackie Edwards (6-2) and Kammi Cottrell (6-1). No other county team has two 6-footers, except for Meade and South River, let alone three.
Annapolis coach Dave Griffith, who led the Panthers to the final four in his rookie season of 1993-94 (19-6), says he thinks his team, Arundel and Meade will battle to the wire.
Annapolis has size, experience (despite only three seniors) and versatility in posing a serious threat to the Wildcats' throne.
Coach Lee Rogers' Wildcats have been to the Class 4A final the past two seasons, winning their first state-crown in school history last year. Having lost metro Player of the Year, 6-foot Chavonne Hammond, now playing at Vanderbilt, would appear to be quite a void for Arundel, but may not be.
Rogers' blending younger players with veterans works because
of his ability to teach and the program's seemingly endless line of talent and quickness.
"They're [Arundel] still the team to beat," said Meade coach Phil Popielski, whose Mustangs won't sneak up on the contenders.
The Mustangs are ready to join the elite with a bushel of returning talent, including 6-2 sophomore center Katie Neatherton and 6-4 junior project Megan Poehlman, who Popielski found in the hallways at Meade and talked into giving the game a try
Meade will battle much-improved North County and unpredictable Old Mill in the north division. The Mustangs earned the right to play for the county championship last year before their division title was taken away because of an ineligible player. Old Mill, instead, represented the north, getting hammered by Arundel.
Old Mill's veteran coach Pat Chance, who has won more games (401) and more Class 4A state titles (four) than any county girls coach, is among those tabbing Meade as a strong contender. Chance also mentioned 25-year compatriot Sally Entsminger and her North County Knights as one of the top teams.
Entsminger, who last took a team to the state final with Andover (20-4) in 1989, considers her Knights as one of her better clubs but not quite ready to unseat Arundel. A chance at the north division title is more reasonable.
Severna Park's winning tradition under Kevin McGrath and the Green Hornets' feeder program gets the Falcons a mention from county coaches, but they may be a year away. An uncertain line-up and influx of underclassmen could have the Falcons reeling.
"I'm going to be doing some unorthodox things I would not have done a couple years ago, because you had to qualify for the playoffs [it's open now]," said McGrath.
The Severna Park coach will start the season with two freshmen who will see a lot of playing time until the mid-season mark. Then, the pair will be sent down to the JV and replaced by two more freshmen, who will move up.
"I know it seems kind of crazy, but the kids know going in what we're going to do," says McGrath. "We'll see who does the best and then decide who plays in the playoffs."
Coach Bruce Springer's Class 3A Broadneck Bruins and 2A Southern should benefit from playing up against the county's eight Class 4A schools. The two teams rest in the south division, which means playing Arundel, Annapolis and Severna Park twice each and the county's five other Class 4A teams once.
"Playing the big guys twice can only make us better, and I think my girls understand that now after coming within three points of winning the region," said Southern coach Linda Kilpatrick. "They understand that we take our lumps [9-16 overall] but playing the 4A schools pays off at the end. The goal is to get [to the states]."
On the private school scene, young but gifted St. Mary's hopes to "get there" again in the Baltimore Catholic League. The Saints won their league last year before dropping the tournament final and should give it another serious run despite coach Harry Dobson's cautious optimism.
New coach Deb Taylor, who led Institute of Notre Dame to a 14-11 record and No. 17 ranking in The Sun's final poll last year, hopes to rebuild Archbishop Spalding.
Pub Date: 12/04/96