Old Mill girls basketball coach Pat Chance cannot remember such parity ever existing in the Class 4A League.
"I personally think this could be the toughest 4A division we've ever had," said Chance, now in her 15th year. "You've got Chesapeake with a lot of girls back who could dump some people, North County is strong, Broadneck is strong, and Severna Park always has to be considered. And who knows what will happen with Annapolis. That could be the team that comes on at the end of the season.
"On any given night, any team could knock someone else off. No one will be lighting up victory cigars in the first quarter."
So who will emerge as the league's best once the smoke clears? A debatable issue, indeed.
"It's not like last year, where Broadneck was really dominant, and everybody else was looking to play the spoiler's role," said Glen Burnie coach Colleen Stauffer.
The 4A League currently is split into two divisions -- the "Friendship" (Arundel, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County and Old Mill) and "Bay" (Annapolis, Broadneck, Chesapeake, Queen Anne's and Severna Park).
Meanwhile, the representatives of the 3A-2A League -- Northeast, Southern and South River -- look to return to the postseason despite losing integral members to graduation.
The following is a look at the 12 county public school teams:
Bruce Springer avoids comparing his Broadneck teams of present and past, and it's just as well. It would take too long to break down all the differences between last year's state champion and this winter's entry.
The departure of guards Tammy Brown, Betsy Given and Stacie Conroy has shifted the emphasis to the inside, where forward Brooke Smith also was lost to graduation. Sounds pretty hopeless, right?
Wrong. Though lacking the overall talent of the teams that won 45 games over the past two seasons, Broadneck still measures up to -- and beyond -- the rest of the 4A League with a trio of 6-footers: senior Andrea Macey (6-0) and juniors Theresa Cornish (6-3) and Jennifer Chapman (6-1).
The program also gained 5-11 junior Sarah Bannat, a transfer from St.
Mary's, who provides more size underneath the basket.
"The inside players are going to have to carry the load for a while until the guards can mature a little and get some experience," Springer said.
The backcourt starters in Wednesday's opener against Glen Burnie were 5-5 senior Crystal Adams and 5-9 junior newcomer Michelle Meyer. Springer replaces Meyer with 5-8 senior Talaya Williams, giving him two guards boasting "experience and familiarity with the system."
"They know what we're trying to do," Springer said.
That doesn't include repeating the feats of the past two seasons.
"As far as duplicating last year, I haven't even thought about anything like that, and neither have they," Springer said. "This team has a new identity for itself. They've worked very hard, and they're learning more every day. If they keep doing that, by middle of season we could be pretty decent. We may come around and surprise a person or two."
A young Old Mill team shocked many in the county last year by going 18-6 and coming within one game of the state playoffs. But Chance says the Patriots, minus only one starter from last season and fielding five sophomores who will see considerable playing time, "still have a lot of work to do before we're in contention for anything."
"I don't feel real prepared to start this week," she said Tuesday, before Old Mill blitzed Queen Anne's, 61-12, in their opener. "People think we're going to start off like we finished last year. Well, we're not."
Though all showed promise as freshmen last year, Chance says guards Chris Baer (5-6), Stacy Himes (5-9) and Lee Ann Lezzer (5-8), and forwards Allison Wentworth (5-9) and Debbie Dawson (6-0) still need to hone their skills.
"They all got a lot of playing time. but it's still not enough," she said. "They still make sophomore mistakes. They still have a lot to learn.
"No matter how much playing time sophomores have, they're still physically weaker than juniors and seniors. The book says basketball is a non-contact sport, but that's not true. It's a contact sport."
Therefore, Chance's main concern lies with the Patriots' talented, but still developing, frontcourt.
"That's where we have to get a lot stronger before we can be what I consider a real well-rounded, strong team; scoring, rebounding, the whole nine yards," she said.
The backcourt is deep, with junior Glen Burnie transfer Jennifer Schmittle (5-7) and seniors Denise Zellers (5-7) and Sandy Johnson (5-4) joining the three sophomores. Johnson led the Patriots in scoring last season.
When asked if Old Mill is ready to take the next step and unseat Broadneck as region titlists, Chance said, "Right off the bat, I think we're a year away, but I don't know. These kids work hard, and if they can improve on some areas, they could be there. But right now, they've got a lot of work to do to get to that point."