Three-time champion River Hill once again is the team to beat in Howard County. And judging from the past three seasons, the Hawks are beatable. At least once.
River Hill is 24-3 against county opponents over the last three seasons, losing to a different team each year.
Hammond outlasted the Hawks, 2-1, in overtime in 1997 and Mount Hebron won, 4-2, two years ago. Centennial's 1-0 victory last season was the Hawks' only loss in 19 games en route to the Class 3A title and their second state championship in three years.
With eight returning starters, including first-team, all-county seniors Shannon Jackson, Maria Masciantonio, Rashida Walcott and Kelsey Cronin, the Hawks are primed for another try at the elusive unbeaten county season. But River Hill coach Joan Kelso Smedley knows it won't be easy.
"When you get into county play it gets more competitive because there's a title at stake," said Smedley, whose team will be bolstered by senior goalie Jen Wright, junior midfielder Ashley Hooper and sophomores Megan Buescher (defender) and Jamie Goertler (midfielder).
"We have some solid players," Smedley said. "Our challenge is to put together a strong defense and come together as a team."
Glenelg (11-7-1 overall, 5-4 league) has gone 14-11-2 over the last three years in the county, but won state titles in 1997 (Class 2A-1A) and 1999 (Class 1A). The Gladiators return seven starters, including seniors Jen Fields, Katie Kirley and Erin Edell and junior Lindsay Lewis, but will be counting on converted midfielder Lauren Koutrelakos, a 5-foot senior, to perform in goal.
Mount Hebron (11-4-2, 6-2-1) will be led by junior midfielder Julie Napolitano (second-team All-Metro), one of 11 juniors on the squad, and senior goalie Kim Rekart (second-team all-county). Seniors Jacque Chacon and Amy Shilling will contribute on defense.
Centennial (9-5-1, 6-2-1) returns first team all-county seniors Erica Niemann (goalie) and Carolyn Schmid (sweeper), and has two strong forwards in juniors Samantha Test (second team all-county) and Julie Richter. Seniors Ashley Evans and Shannon Townsend, both projected starters, are questionable for the season with back and knee injuries, respectively.
Hammond (11-6-1, 4-4-1) has an experienced defense - all its starters return except one - and an inexperienced front line of freshmen. Junior midfielder Melissa Workman, a second-team all-county pick, and junior goalie Tara Zamichielli will lead the Golden Bears, who have only three seniors.
Coach Bryan Rothstein takes over at Long Reach (8-6-1, 5-3-1), where all-county seniors Alison West (first team, midfielder) and Candice Hills (second team, forward) will lead the way.
Wilde Lake (8-6-1, 4-4-1) returns nine players with starting experience, including seniors Jackie Taubman (forward) and Sarah Hobart (goalie) and junior midfielders Allie Levine and Kelly Thomas.
Oakland Mills (2-9-4, 2-4-3) expects to improve this season, and will be led by seniors Rachel Clinton (forward/midfielder), Tori Parris (midfielder) and Shannon Glisan (sweeper).
Seniors Denise Whalen (sweeper) and Katie McNulty (forward) and junior fullback Michelle Anderson will lead Howard (4-11, 1-8), which will be directed by first-year coach Gretta Schaefer.
Atholton first-year coach Chuck Teal has kept eight freshmen and expects to start three or four. The Raiders (2-12-1, 0-9) will be led by juniors Caitlin Kelley (sweeper) and Christen Pena-Ariet (forward).
Chapelgate (5-8, 3-5-1 IAAM B Division) will look for leadership from senior sweeper Courtney Holley, sophomore midfielder Jessica Holtrop and junior forward Kristen Lynott.