With 12 state titles in all and seven in the last eight years, Severna Park's fantastic finishes have been well-documented.
The mystery with the No. 1 Falcons seems to come at the start of each season.
"Every year, the first thing I do is take the seniors for a walk. We get away from the crowd and have a talk. And the rest of the girls always wonder what we talk about," said Severna Park coach Lil Shelton.
Eight seniors -- including All-Metro first-team wing Nicki Barnes and second-team midfielder Lynsey Bateman -- took their stroll and quenched their curiosity.
"The seniors set the pace and maintain our team values. I just tell them to look at the others and understand that they're going to go where you lead them," Shelton adds.
Overwhelming chances are the final path will once again take them to Goucher College, home of the state championships in November.
With Barnes (21 goals, 12 assists) and Kristen Burke proven goal scorers, Bateman getting midfield company from Jenn Zinck, and a defense returning intact anchored by Krista Fisher and Kelli Bowerman, the Falcons are poised to add to their state-record 12 state crowns.
The past couple of years, South River has been working on building a tradition of its own. The Seahawks took perennial power and eventual Class 3A state champ Fallston to the final round of penalty strokes in last year's region final. That experience was invaluable.
With Jackie Colacicco and Anne Cline providing the offense and Raina Edelstein the steadying influence on defense, the Seahawks have one goal in mind: "Make it to Goucher," said coach Laura Gerrior.
The usual candidates are back to give Severna Park a push.
Take away three losses to the Falcons and Chesapeake went 11-1-1 last fall. The Cougars have a solid senior group led by Jessica Zeruto, Joanna Wald and Melissa Bryant, a standout in goal in junior Meghann Bush and a sophomore class that has coach Jerry Taylor excited.
Arundel is taking a defense-first approach, dropping back seniors Alexis Viera and Samantha Cummings to "put the experience where it belongs," said coach Clint Gosnell. Senior Michelle Hornfeck, a four-year starter who registered 10 goals and four assists last season, will stay put up front to lead an otherwise young cast.
Turning the corner fast is North County, which went from zero wins in 1998 to 6-8-1 last year, including an upset win over Broadneck in the region playoffs. With nine starters back, led by juniors Kathryn Francazi and Brooke Nowell on attack, Megan Willey in the middle and Stacey King on defense, the Knights hope to continue the upward trend.
Broadneck, with a strong foundation at both ends, should be competitive once again. Senior forward Shane Rigling scored a team-high nine goals last fall and Rebecca Wojtowicz will patrol the middle of the field.
Having lost 13 seniors, Annapolis is young, particulalrly on defense, where the Panthers will start from scratch.
With nine seniors led by senior sweeper Alaina Nutwell, a four-year starter, Southern is looking to rebound from its three-win season in 1999. Fellow senior Kori Talbott, the Bulldogs' leading scorer the past two seasons, will once again set the pace offensively.
In the private school ranks, the consensus from St. Mary's, Severn and Spalding is there's simply no breather in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland's A Conference.
Last year, St. Mary's enjoyed its finest season ever, reaching the league semifinals with a senior-dominated roster. Coach Patti Lavell expects the new cast to fill in nicely, with senior Allison Lynch leading a balanced attack on offense.
At Severn, the Admirals appear to have all the pieces in place to build on their 11-win season last fall. Coach Renie Sotiropoulis has senior standout Ashley Dodson, a hungry front line and experience in goal with three-year starter Brenley Jacobs.
With a strong defense in place, led by senior Mary Monaghan and junior sweeper Erin Brady, Spalding is looking to improve its work offensively in the circle. Senior forward Meghan Taneyhill provided the Cavs with a good starting point.