Anne Arundel County
The county is stacked and, once again, any of a number of teams can find the path to postseason accolades.
Last season, it was North County that had its bats working the best when it counted the most to claim its second Class 4A state title in three years. The Knights will count on sophomore pitcher Beth Mullins, a second-team All-Metro selection, on the mound and at the plate.
The Chesapeake Cougars are considered the early favorites. At Glen Burnie, the defending county champ Gophers will look for some timely hitting from second baseman Sara Schmidt, converted catcher Allison Hohman and center fielder Cricket Conley.
There will be several changes in the city league this spring, but Western again will be the dominant program. The Doves, who lost to Perry Hall in last season's 4A North region championship, haven't lost a league match since 1998.
Western will face several adjustments of its own. Carla Barrerra replaces Sean Stoliker as coach. City and Poly figure to chase the Doves in Division A along with Carver, Patterson, Southern, Southwestern and first-year varsity program Reginald Lewis (#419).
Northwestern should be the team to watch in Division B with Douglass, Dunbar, Edmondson, Southside, Walbrook and W.E.B. DuBois (#418).
County champion Eastern Tech again will be the team to beat in Baltimore County, but Perry Hall and Catonsville will push the Mavericks in Division I, while Franklin, Dulaney and Towson will lead Division II.
Eastern Tech returns even more speed than last year, and the Mavericks return five starters led by all-county pitcher Tina Burchfield. Catonsville will add freshman pitcher Amanda Fefel to a strong lineup that took the Comets to the regional championship last year. Franklin returns second team All-Metro outfielder Rhiannon Staub and first baseman Wendy Stahl. At Perry Hall, the Gators return 10 of 13 players from a team that lost in the 4A state semifinals.
North Carroll wants to take the final step this year. The Panthers made the state semifinals two years ago before losing in the state finals last spring.
Coach Lloyd Ford's team looks ready, with seven starters returning from last year's 18-5 squad that lost to Thomas Stone (4-2) in the Class 3A state finals. The Panthers also won the county title and shared the Central Maryland Conference crown with Frederick.
All-County picks Jessica Smith (9-3, 0.99 ERA) and Allie Honkofsky (C, .338) return and will anchor the team. Smith saved the state semifinal.
South Carroll, Westminster and Liberty all lost some key players and are trying to challenge North Carroll.
Fallston ended C. Milton Wright's five-year run at the top of the county last year.
That, and the fact that the Cougars did not lose a single player from last year's 20-2 and 3A North regional champion team, makes them the favorite.
Don't be fooled by C. Milton Wright's youth. Joining Laura Canton and Nicole Hays are seven talented freshmen, the most Joe Dunch has ever carried.
Havre de Grace has closed the gap, and with the return of battery mates Holly Martin and Austin Ripken, the Warriors have the talent to take the next step. Good pitching should keep North Harford in the mix. Bel Air's pitching is improved with the arrival of freshman Gabby Long.
Is another surprise in the works?
A year removed from River Hill's run to a share of the county championship with perennial powerhouse Atholton, Glenelg, which hasn't won a county title since 1995, appears to be in line to break the dry spell.
The Gladiators graduated just one starter from last season's team, and four All-County players have returned.
Glenelg will be pressed by River Hill, which graduated four players, but boasts a formidable starting pitcher and two freshmen who can take the mound.
Atholton has won the past four county crowns, but graduation claimed four All-County players.
That's the consensus among the coaches of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland's A Conference.
Perennial power Spalding, winner of 12 conference titles in the past 13 years, is called the team to beat out of respect, but the Cavaliers lost 10 prominent players.
Pallotti begins its second season in the league and will be eligible for tournament play after going 11-1 in the regular season last year. The Institute of Notre Dame returns seven starters; Mount de Sales might start four freshmen.
Lutheran chases after its fourth straight IAAM B Conference title. Maryvale returns as C Conference champ.