Put four names in a bag, say, Reservoir, Marriotts Ridge, River Hill and Glenelg.
Draw them out, one by one. One will be the county champ. One will be spoiler. The third will comete for a Class 3A state title and the last for a Class 2A state title.
But which team will achieve what?
That's parity. That's what this fall season promises: parity and surprises.
"Reservoir is the team to beat," Marriotts Ridge coach Robin Grey said. "Since Josh (Sullivan) has taken over the program, Reservoir has become a powerhouse. They believe in his system and execute it beautifully. They might have lost some key players in (Katlyn) Axenfeld, but their core remains. Plus, they have a huge threat in Amanda Jackson. I expect us to be in the hunt for the county title (along with Glenelg, River Hill, and Centennial), but right now I give the edge to Reservoir."
Jackson, who helped the Reservoir Gators win their first state title a year ago, has "the ability to take over the game from an offensive or defensive perspective," coach Josh Sullivan said. "She is the best player I have ever had the chance to coach and see on the field. She's absolutely a game-changer."
Delaney Reiff, another Gator, is fresh off a summer season that included playing for the SAC-15 team that finished second in the nation. And new Wilde Lake coach Robin Sawyer said Reservoir's Michele Viegas is the "total package in midfield."
Sullivan worries about youth. "I graduated quite a bit and we have some holes to fix. But all in all, the biggest thing that I'm concerned with is experience. It's something you can't coach. I think what this team needs is time to get to know one another out on the field."
Grey lost Player of the Year Alex Price, but said that is only a small nick in the Mustangs' plans for a second straight county title, at the least.
"Yes, we're young, but I wouldn't call us rebuilding so much as reloading," she said. "The talent is definitely there. It is just a matter of finding a combination that works and building chemistry from there."
River Hill is always talented and could easily be the best team by the end of the season. Centennial and Atholton are always strong and upset-minded. Steve Baxter at Centennial said he has a Player of the Year candidate in defender Jordan Coburn, who is already committed to Virginia Tech. While Jackson is a game-changer on offense, Coburn does the same on defense, Baxter said.
And if you are listing other early Player of the Year candidates, don't overlook Wilde Lake's Gillian Sawyer, Glenelg's Danielle Burris and Marriotts Ridge's Maria Hochuli.
Here's a quick look at the teams as the season starts.
2010 record: 5-4-2 county, 5-6-2 overall
Top returning players: Seniors Amy Weinberg (GK), Emily Pattillo (D) and Desiree Bodziony (M); junior Katrina Macadoff (F).
Scouting report: Look for Macadoff (four goals, four assists) and all-county second-team pick Bodziony to lead the Raiders' offense. "We have many scoring options. We need to score early and often," coach Stephanie Stoutenborough said. "We have a lot of speed that we will use to attack. We have height right up the middle so we will dominate in the air."
The Raiders get a boost from the return of senior defender Adriana Vitagliano, who did not play as a junior. "She's a tough and strong defender," Stoutenborough said. She'll compliment goalkeeper Weinberg, who can dominate the air.
"We will need everyone working together to achieve our goals. We don't just rely on one player to win the game," she added.
2010 record: 6-4-1, 9-6-1
Top returning players: Seniors Jordan Coburn (D) and Nicki Mize (M).
Scouting report: "We definitely look very strong on paper, but we've already lost one starter to a season-ending injury," second-year coach Steve Baxter said. Still, with six veterans returning, Baxter seems optimistic. Coburn, an All-State honorable mention and all-county first-team pick, and Mize, a second-teamer, lead the talented six.
"We are more experienced than last year and the team has more depth off of the bench. Howard County is a very competitive environment and we take no one for granted," Baxter added. To be in the mix for a county title the Eagles "must score more goals and tighten up our team defense. We feel confident we will see improvement in these areas and compete with anyone."
2010 record: 8-1-2, 13-4-2
Top returning players: Seniors Danielle Burris (F), Brooke Carey (G), Casey Vantucci (D), Amanda Lyons (F), Christina Kaminsky (M) and Megan Patowski (D).
Scouting report: Coach Dean Sheridan's squad has six seniors returning, including four all-county selections, from the 2010 team that reached the Class 2A championship game. Translation: the Gladiators are experienced, skilled and solid. Sheridan also touts a very strong freshman class, with four who could earn starting positions on the varsity team this fall.
"I think we may have a little more skill and touch this year," he added.
The Gladiators did lose a lot to graduation, including center back Liz Ebeling, who played every minute of every game for three years. "Finding an answer" to filling her shoes is problem Sheridan needs to solve.
The Gladiators traditionally put one goal ahead of all others — winning a Class 2A state title. If a county title comes as part of the package, that's icing on the cake. "Our goal is always to advance as deep into the tournament as we can," Sheridan said. Glenelg will have to get past Marriotts Ridge to win a state title. The Gladiators' last came in 2008 when they were a smaller, Class 1A school.
2010 record: 1-10, 4-11
Top returning players: Seniors Audrey Zahlis (D), Madeleine Borowski (F), Aine Mangan (D), Kelly Rugel (M) and Hannah Force.
Scouting report: Though the Golden Bears won just a single county game a year ago, new head coach Mike Koplow brings optimism. "Being new to this system, I am not in a position to do much of a 'compare' to previous years. ...What I do know is that I believe Hammond's program will be exciting."
The seniors are "well supported" by "notable juniors Allie Kennedy, Molly Albano, Laura Loeffler and Sarah Robey," Koplow said. Starting goalkeeper Julia Reed, a sophomore, already has a year of varsity experience on her resume, another plus in Hammond's revitalization.
All players "promise to provide tenacity and drive with a very high level of energy," Koplow said.
2010 record: 4-6-1, 6-7-1
Top returning players: Seniors Carli Sokoloski (M), Gusty Mead (D) and Brooke Hinkel (D); juniors Caitlyn Whitford (D) and Kelsey Wright (F); sophomore Katie Cocozza (M).
Scouting report: Nick Zaron takes over a program from longtime coach Michelle Osterberger Rugiel that returns a core of strong players. Zaron said he's "not sure about how the team was last year because I am new, but overall, from top to bottom, I feel that this is a very complete team. Everybody can play and has the right ideas. We have the ability to play the ball out of the back, keep possession, and play to feet, or, if we have to, we can play direct."
The Lions have just three seniors, but Zaron said he has "full faith in the seniors leading us on" to be in a position to win. He's counting on Sokoloski's experience in the middle, along with the vocal leadership of tough defender Mead, and Hinkel, a defender who can also go forward.
2010 record: 3-8, 7-9
Top returning players: Seniors Tori Delaney (D) and Courtney Glasser (G); juniors Kristen Fawole (F), Victoria Simpson (D) and Angelina Rebaza (M).
Scouting report: Second-year coach Erik Sandersen lost a strong midfield to graduation, but has one of the county's top scorers back in Fawole. She had 11 goals and three assists last season and is one of several juniors who gained a lot of experience last year and will play a strong role this fall, he added.
Sandersen expects a freshman, Ann Bonner, to start at wing halfback and have an impact on the Lightning's season. She's the only freshman on a team that has five seniors.
"Our goal is to finish above .500 overall. Courtney Glasser must have a strong year in the net, and sophomore Heather Glasser must play strong in the midfield," he said.
2010 record: 10-1, 13-3-1
Top returning players: Seniors Maria Hochuli (D), Tori Thompson (D) and Nicole Grote (M); juniors Morgan Crable (F) and Zoe Stukenberg (F).
Scouting report: The Mustangs are coming off their best season after putting their first county championship trophy in their showcase. But they lost a lot in player of the year Alex Price and first-team goalkeeper Kristine Mumby, who had eight shutouts.
But Hochuli, also a first-team pick, returns. "She is the cornerstone of our defense," coach Robin Grey said. "She is the primary reason we had only seven goals scored against us last season — and two of them were penalty kicks."
Crable is "probably my most skilled player," Grey added. "I used her (last year) to mark out our opponents' offensive threats. This year, I intend to use her everywhere on the field, but primarily up top."
Grote, Stukenberg and Thompson will provide strength and stability to the Mustangs' midfield.
"We hope to build on our success from last season," Grey said. "The key will be staying grounded and making sure we take things one game at a time. I know the girls would like to advance further in the playoffs than we have in previous years, but Glenelg always seems to have our number. If we can get over that mental hurdle, we should be able to make things happen this season."
2010 record: 5-5-1, 7-8-1
Top returning players: Senior Erica Staedeli (M); juniors Susie Halper (F/M), Kelsi Folch (M) and Jessie Czulewicz (D).
Scouting report: Coach Tim Deppen lays it on the line: "Our team goal, as lofty as it may be, is to be the best team in the county. We need everyone to step up and buy in so we can make it happen.
"I am looking specifically to my strikers to be able to get forward and put the ball in the net," he said. Halper led the Vikings in scoring last year with five goals and five assists. Her speed gives her opportunities and she draws multiple defenders which makes opportunities for others.
The play of returning goalkeeper Tahlia Tavai "should also make a huge difference since all but one of our losses last year was by one goal. She put in a large amount of training and effort to make fantastic improvements." She'll be protected by Czulewicz, a confident sweeper.
2010 record: 0-11, 2-12
Top returning players: Seniors Mary Grace Grandfield (M), Jessica Lampron (D) and Erin Yarn (G); junior Marlee Slaughter (D).
Scouting report: For the first time in 16 seasons, the Scorpions have a new coach in Christina Bleivik. She moves up to the varsity after coaching the junior varsity for two seasons under then head coach Susan Rosner.
"We have worked hard in the off-season and (are) transitioning with a new coach," she said. Already she knows "we need to be working together as a team."
Bleivik has three freshmen competing for starting roles, but she also has three seniors to set the tone. Grandfield brings experience, leadership and hustle; Lampron is a tough, aggressive defender and Yarn is back in goal. She sees the field well, Bleivik said.
Slaughter, a junior, has also stepped up into a leadership position, Bleivik said.
2010 record: 8-2-1, 15-3-1
Top returning players: Seniors Michelle Viegas (M), Megan Fowler (G): junior Amanda Jackson (F), sophomores Delaney Reiff (D), Amy Armstrong(M), Blair Bonner (D).
Scouting report: Reservoir loses several players from its 2010 state championship team to graduation, including three all-county players. but don't expect the Gators to back down.
"Our goals are always the same. We want to be up in the top tier of the county and put us in a chance to win counties and so on. I think everyone needs to step up and fill the voids. When you lose six or seven starters, you need it to be a team effort," coach Josh Sullivan said.
But look who returns, especially Jackson. She's Player-of-the-Year material, but then so are Viegas and Reiff. That trio has a lot of talent.
"I feel very fortunate to be able to coach somebody of her ability. She's just not a goal-scorer. She can do so much more that can change the game," Sullivan said about Jackson.
Viegas develops the offensive attack and Reiff is strong in the air. Fowler knows her position well and understands game situations, Sullivan said.
2010 record: 9-2, 14-3
Top returning players: Seniors Liz Bamber (M) and Katie Marlatt (M); juniors Katie Arensmeier (M) and Haily Emrick (D); sophomores Sheridan Street (F) and Callie Allan (D).
Scouting report: "We will be very young — we only have four seniors," coach Brian Song said. "I don't have great amount of experience, but if we stay healthy I think we should be fine."
The Hawks are always well-coached and should never be counted out of any title run. Their strength will be in the middle. Bamber and Marlatt "will not show much on the stats, but they will control the midfield," Song said. While Marlatt will be a defensive midfielder, Bamber will also contribute to the offense. Arensmeier (six goals, five assists in 2010) and Street (seven goals, four assists), also midfielders, will create scoring opportunities for themselves and others.
"I think it is every team's goal to win the state and it is no different this year. Our seniors, Liz and Katie, as well as our goalie, Carly Brunett, are very important pieces" in achieving that goal, said the coach. River Hill last won a state title in 2008, in Class 2A. The Hawks are now in the larger 3A school classification.
2010 record: 3-8, 3-10
Top returning players: Senior Gillian Sawyer (F); juniors Maria Pascale (M) and Abbie Wright (M); sophomore Sarah Hulit (M).
Scouting report: Sawyer started putting goals on the scoreboard in her first varsity game as a freshman and hasn't stopped. She has 44 career goals, including 13 last year. But she will need support from players around her to continue at that clip, said her father and new head coach Robin Sawyer. Pascale, a "real dynamo who can run all day," and Hulit, who can win balls in the midfield and turn defense into offense, will need to control the midfield. They get help from Wright, whose vision and pinpoint passes will feed the Wildecats' offense, Sawyer said.
"We are a very young and somewhat inexperienced team, so our goals are to be as competitive as we can in every game," coach Sawyer said. "We need to play with as much energy and passion as possible and minimize our own mistakes."
Chapelgate Christian Academy
2010 record: 7-0-1, 12-1-2 in IAAM C Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Kristin Thomas (F), Amarachi Uzosike (D) and Sydney Ackman (D); sophomore Lydia Frierson (F).
Scouting report: If you want to win a second straight championship, you need a lot of goals. Thomas might be the answer: She had 22 last year and added nine assists.
Coach Christen Gjeldum thinks Thomas is the "best player (in the C Conference of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland) because of her speed, smarts, hard shot, and experience."
Frierson will be an outlet when Thomas is marked tightly, and Uzosike and Ackman will anchor the defense. Two newcomers — freshmen midfielders Jennifer Lindauere ande Emma Rufulo — will make an impact, Gjeldum said.
"Our team goal is to win every game and to go far in playoffs to hopefully win the championship. This is the same goal we have every year," Gjeldum said. "To make this happen, our forwards really need to step up and take shots outside the 18. The whole team needs to really stay in their position and play it to the best of their ability. Practices need to be intense and the girls need to work hard to get in shape."
Gjeldum expects her toughest competition in the IAAM title campaign will come from St. Timothy's and Park School.
Glenelg Country School
2010 record: 2-6, 4-8 in IAAM C conference
Top returning players: Junior Tala Ahmadi (F), sophomores Ninah Dawson (M) and Ashley Mink (M).
Scouting report: Coach Christy Mink said the Dragons have two clear-cut goals: reach the .500 mark and score more goals.
"We will need to look to the midfielders to consistently provide additional shots on goal in order for our team to be successful in the box," Mink said.
Mink has a young team, with seven freshmen on the bulging roster. They are "all coming to the program with outside experience. There is an energy to this year's group of 18 players that has not existed before and the potential they bring to the field is exciting."
Ahmadi brings speed to the Dragons' game, and Dawson knows how to distribute the ball. Mink is often "the starting point" for the offense, Mink said. Deja Hursey, a forward, and Chloe Lewis, a defender, are two of the standout freshmen who "will immediately strengthen our transitional game."