Youth will be the watchword in Carroll County boys basketball this year.
Only one of last year's top 10 county scorers is back, so this year, perhaps more than many others, requires looking at last year's junior varsity results to provide some clues.
South Carroll's jayvee team went 15-5 overall, 7-0 in the county and 7-5 in the Central Maryland Conference. That, combined with a pair of returning starters, should give the Cavaliers the inside track this season.
But North Carroll and Westminster both have some returning talent this year and could challenge South Carroll.
In the Central Maryland Conference, 1989-1990 runner-up Frederick appears to have the inside track this year, with an abundance of returning talent. Thomas Johnson, though, will always be in the thick of the hunt and has several key players back this season.
In the Monocacy Valley Athletic League, traditional powers Walkersville and Middletown likely will battle for the title. Boonsboro, tied with Walkersville for the league title last year, figures to slip a bit this season, but North Hagerstown, coming off an impressive junior varsity campaign (18-2 overall, 16-1 in the league) could be among the leaders.
A 2-1 start at Western Maryland gives hope for improvement over last year's 5-19 record, but Franklin and Marshall, Dickinson, Moravian and Muhlenberg still loom large in the Middle Atlantic Conference-Southwest picture.
Here is a team-by-team look at the county:
Francis Scott Key
Second-year coach Jeff Cook will try to improve on a 1-21 freshman campaign with a balanced attack on offense and a pressure defense.
"We're working on improving our running game and using some traps and pressure defense to do so," he said.
The Eagles will look to spread the scoring around this season, going deep into their bench.
"We're not relying on one person to do all the scoring. We'll be well-rounded offensively and we'll use everyone with the pressure defense we will use."
Junior Dave Layman will run the offense, and Cook is relying on senior returnees Larry Haines and Jimmy Wright to provide the necessary leadership.
"The kids are very enthusiastic and have worked hard," Cook said. "If they continue to work hard and give 100 percent, it should produce wins."
Francis Scott Key will open the season Dec. 5 at home against Monocacy Valley Athletic League foe South Hagerstown.
The Lions come off a 5-17 season (1-6 in the county, 1-11 in the Central Maryland Conference) a year ago, losing a number of starting players to graduation.
Coach Scott Kohr, in his second year, has two key seniors returning in Neal Lampron and Greg Phelps.
"We'll play an uptempo game with Greg Phelps and (junior) Matt Alexander providing the one-two punch inside," he said.
One problem the Lions must solve is turning close games into wins.
Last year, they lost seven games by five points or less (including four games by one point). Turning those losses into wins would produce a .500-plus team.
"Last year, we lost a lot of close games," Kohr said. "This year we need to find the killer punch to maintain late leads."
Liberty will open its season at home Dec. 5 against Towson of Baltimore County before facing county foe Francis Scott Key at home Dec. 7.
After losing seven seniors from a 12-12 team a year ago, this could be a rebuilding year for the Panthers.
The Panthers will remain patient on offensive and rely on balanced scoring.
"The key will be how well we shoot. If we shoot well, everything will fall into place," Panthers coach Pete Litchka said.
Litchka will look to junior guard Bennie Jackson to run the show offensively, with fellow junior forward Dave Policheck and senior guards Scott Deltuva and Dave Parsley playing key roles.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "The kids are working real hard, and we have a lot of people who can play different positions."
The Panthers will open their season Dec. 5 at home against Catoctin.
Last year, South Carroll had just one returning starter from its 24-2 state runner-up team of 1988-1989, so not much was expected of the Cavs. All the team did was compile an 18-7 record and reach the Class 3A Region I finals before falling to Oakland Mills of Howard County.
Most would have called last season a rebuilding year, but South Carroll coach Jim Carnes dislikes that term.
"We never have a rebuilding year because, at a public school, you always have to take what's there," he said.
What's there for South Carroll this year are seniors Jamie Harrich and Chris Larrick, two key members of last year's team. What's missing is consensus All-County player Geoff Rupert, among Carroll's leaders in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and assists.
Carnes figures that shooting will be a strength but says he is concerned about rebounding.
"It's not that our rebounding will be bad, it's just a concern right now," he said.
Another plus for the Cavaliers is consistency throughout the program. The junior varsity was 15-5 last year, the freshman squad, 10-4.