Last year, county wrestling was as competitive as it had been for years.
Francis Scott Key went unbeaten in the regular season, but finished third behind North Carroll and South Carroll in the county tournament. And though Westminster and Liberty were a bit behind the rest of the county, the two were closely matched, with the Owls eking out a 30-27 win in their dual meet.
This year, the competition may be just as intense -- but for second place in the county.
Of last year's top three, North Carroll has by far the most talented returning cast and is the preseason favorite.
"They're going to be heads and tails above us and everybody else," said South Carroll coach Pete Olson of the Panthers.
Which county team will be second-best?
Liberty or Westminster, with a plethora of returning talent from sub-.500 teams last year? Or Key and South Carroll, which lost nine and eight seniors, respectively, from talented squads?
Here's a look at the county teams:
F. Scott Key Eagles
Coach Bill Hyson, in his 12th year at the helm for Francis Scott Key, comes off a 9-2 season of a year ago losing eight seniors, including five who qualified for states.
The good news is the Eagles had a turnout of 66 this year, the majority ninth- and 10th-graders.
"I'm very excited about the turnout. Our strength is our underclass talent, where we had around 50 ninth- and 10th-graders try out this season," Hyson said.
Top returnees include seniors Brian McCauley, Wyatt Griffin, Chris Lookingbill and Brian Puckett, along with junior Clayton Robertson, who is the lone state qualifier from a year ago.
The Lions are looking to surprise a few people with a veteran cast that includes five seniors and three juniors returning from last year's disappointing 3-8 season.
Ed Singer returns for his third year as head coach, the first time a wrestling coach has done so in the school's 11 years.
"We lost only one senior, a non-starter, so we have a strong lineup returning. Everyone saw what Francis Scott Key did last year, and we hope we can do the same thing," Singer said.
Tri-captains Anthony Biasella (145), Eric Snyder (hwt.), both seniors, and junior Shane Harmon (125) will anchor the veteran squad. Other returning seniors with varsity experience are Charlie Seal (140), Jeff Wagner (152)and Roger Brooks (152).
North Carroll Panthers
After a solid, third-place finish in the states a year ago, it appears North Carroll coach Dick Bauerlein has the firepower to better that performance.
"I expect the kids to do well. We have a solid group of seniors who know how to win," said Bauerlein, who is in his 15th season at North Carroll.
The Panthers are losing four seniors from last year's 13-1 team.
The important factor, however, is who is returning. North Carroll has five state qualifiers returning.
Seniors Dave Foster (152), Jason Myer (140), Justin Deibel (125) and Bill Lubking (171) will anchor an experienced squad along with junior Tom Dell (119).
Sophomore newcomer Jeremy Myers will battle senior Chad Miller for the 103-pound weight class.
"The county will be competitive, but I think we have the edge. South Carroll is young and should be competitive, and Liberty is coming on," Bauerlein said.
South Carroll Cavaliers
How much did South Carroll lose to graduation?
Not just eight first-line wrestlers, but four of the six best in school history, all grouped in the 130-145 weight classes.
Jamie Miller graduated as the school's all-time victory leader, Buddy Hill was next on the list, B. J. Morrissett was fourth and Willie McConnell was sixth. For good measure, Louis Hrebar added 18 victories at 152, giving South Carroll one of the strongest middleweight lineups around.
"You can't help but miss people like that," Olson said.
On the other hand, Olson said he has some talented wrestlers in those weight classes who were stuck wrestling on the B team for several years.
And, he said, they should do well at the varsity level after taking on some of the best South Carroll wrestlers ever in the practice room.
Among the handful of varsity returnees, Mike Lermer (119/125) is the only one who advanced to last year's state tournament. Olson said he expects some help from senior transfer student Brent Harris, but said his team is thin at both the 112 and 189 weight classes.
The Owls have seven varsity wrestlers back this year, paced by state tournament qualifiers Tom Brown (103) and Justin Ott (135).
Those are the top returnees on paper, but heavyweight James Stump could be a big boost for the Owls this year. Stump, whose brother Doug won a state crown in 1986 before making the University of Maryland football team as a walk-on, missed last season with an injury and could make an impact in his junior year.
The added experience also has Carr feeling upbeat about the 1990-1991 season.
"I feel very confident this season," said the third-year head coach. "We had a lot of kids break into the lineup last year. They have experience now, and that's going to help a lot."