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Anne Arundel County

A three-team logjam - Arundel, South River and Severna Park - surfaced at the top of the standings last season before the latter claimed its fifth straight county title.

The same teams should again figure prominently.

South River brings back eight starters, led by second-team All-Metro keeper Jacque Sutphin; county runner-up Arundel has lost eight seniors, but returns three impact players in Melissa Hornfeck, Michelle Zook and Alli Wilkerson; and Severna Park, despite heavy graduation losses, has passed the test of time over and over.

Old Mill and Broadneck, both teams bringing back plenty of talent, should provide company at the top.

Baltimore City

City College won the first-ever city title game last season, 1-0, on Danyelle Brown's goal in the final minute. It was City's second straight title, after breaking Western's seven-year stronghold on the top spot in 2000.

Previously, the city championship had been awarded to the team with the best league record, but last season, City took advantage of the change, avenging a 2-1 regular-season loss to the Doves.

City should have a bit of an edge this season, returning almost every starter.

Despite some rebuilding, Western shouldn't be far behind with key defender Krystle Wartman and striker Star Tazwell.

Poly could also be in the hunt.

Baltimore County

After a banner season for the county in which Loch Raven earned a share of the Class 1A state title, Perry Hall and Franklin reached the state final and Eastern Tech got to the semifinals, look for another fall filled with close games.

All the contenders return overwhelmingly veteran squads. Fresh off its first county title, Perry Hall gets the early edge in Division I. Franklin, Eastern Tech and Parkville won't make it easy for the Gators to repeat.

In Division II, Dulaney appears to be the front-runner by a nose. Last year's winner, Hereford, and Loch Raven don't figure to be far behind.

In Division III, co-champions Carver A&T; and Lansdowne likely will contend once again.

Carroll County

North Carroll and defending champion Liberty appear to be the two top teams.

The Panthers have only four returning starters, but senior All-County choices Heather Tomko, Jen Sunday and Bekie Finch provide for a solid foundation.

The Lions lost six starters to graduation and will be young, but coach Lee Kestler said seniors Rachel Harman (three-year starter) and Becky Webster (goalie) should help if the team struggles early.

New coach Terry Molloy has some rebuilding to do at Westminster. The Owls lost a total of nine starters.

Century takes its first shot at varsity competition, and after an 11-0-2 season last year in JV, the Knights have some people worried.

Harford County

Defending champion Fallston and C. Milton Wright should fight it out for supremacy, but they will be pushed.

Fallston returns the bulk of its talent from a team that last season handed Bel Air its first county lost in four years. Juniors Brianna Yapps and Justine Smith will lead the team.

Wright returns seven starters, and coach Paul Austin says the team is even faster than last year. A deep bench will complement a potent lineup.

Senior striker Colby Bugda will lead Bel Air, and her play will tell a lot about how the Bobcats do.

North Harford lost eight starters from a young team. Senior goalkeeper Lindsay Koerber must steady the defense.

Howard County

River Hill and Centennial have clearly distinguished themselves in a conference that -- as usual -- is deep and extremely talented.

River Hill returns 10 starters, including All-Metro performers Megan Buescher and Jamie Goertler, and is still the team to beat, although it should have its hands full with the Eagles, who are led by gifted playmaker Hayley Siegel and a solid defense.

Young last year, Centennial still won a share of the Class 2A state crown, so expectations are high.

Mount Hebron and Glenelg could present a challenge. The Vikings hope to offset the loss of all-everything Julie Napolitano with a speedy lineup. The Gladiators return a formidable defense.

Private schools

The Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference remains the finest league in the area, and the best of the best remains St. Mary's.

Winners of the past two league titles, the Saints are led by a talented group that includes All-Metro players Ashly Kennedy and Mary Key.

John Carroll, McDonogh and Notre Dame Prep are all capable of ending St. Mary's run.

In the B Conference, two-time defending champ St. John's at Prospect Hall will have challengers from all directions.

Severn and Bryn Mawr return strong sides and Maryvale, down from the A Conference, and newcomer St. Paul's will give the league more balance.

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