Each year, as more and more girls play in summer basketball leagues, recreation leagues and attend camps, the talent pool in the Baltimore area gets larger and stronger.
No longer can one team, such as the Towson Catholic teams of decade ago, corner the market on the most talented players. More good players means more good teams, more balance, and more excitement in girls basketball.
Not that the mighty have yet fallen -- perennial powers WesternWalbrook, Mount Hebron, Seton Keough and Woodlawn are all in The Evening Sun preseason Top 20 rankings -- but there are plenty of new challengers.
Lake Clifton and Poly are ready to make a move in BaltimorCity.
In the rugged Catholic League A Division, St. Mary's, Spaldinand Mercy think they can handle four-time defending champion Seton Keough. In the B Division, Institute of Notre Dame looks strong.
The Anne Arundel County 4A League is loaded. Severna Paralready has upset two-time defending state champ Broadneck. Old Mill and North County will contend. Northeast should top the 3A-2A league.
Mount Hebron will be chased in Howard County by OaklanMills, Howard and Glenelg.
North Harford in Harford County and North Carroll in CarrolCounty are the early favorites.
Here's a look at the Top 20 with last year's records and finarankings in parentheses:
1 Western (27-0, No. 1)
* Breezy Bishop has just about everything a coach could want -- speed, power, experienced starters and a strong inside-outside game. She even has The Evening Sun Player of the Year from last season, 6-foot-2 senior center Dana Johnson (19.6 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocked shots). Johnson is a preseason All-America who already has signed with Tennessee. First-team All-Metro sophomore guard, 6-0 Kisha Ford (15.5 ppg, 4.4 steals) and 5-7 senior G Keya Woods are returning starters. They'll be joined by sophomores Kelly Evans (6-1 F/G) and Erika Dailey (5-2 G). When the bench, including three players 6 feet or taller, gains experience, the Doves will have the whole package.
2 St. Mary's (23-6, No. 7)
* Led by first-team All-Metro senior 6-0 F Laura Coakley (19.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg), the Saints may finally knock off Catholic League champion Seton Keough this year. Coach Carmine Blades has added 5-5 blue-chip freshman point guard Brigit Smith to a veteran lineup. Blades, who said he has three shooters who can hit from three-point range, thinks Smith's presence will keep teams from throwing gimmick defenses at Coakley and junior Randall Goldsborough (5-5 G). Junior Amelia Mikula (6-0 C) and senior Heather Greenlee (5-9 F) are returning starters and senior Jen Bonanni, a starter last year, heads a bench that includes several prospects from last year's 25-4 JV team.
3 Walbrook (15-5, No. 6)
* Coach Pete Connally lost five seniors to graduation but always puts a strong team on the floor. He calls 5-4 sophomore PG Tina Fauntleroy (5.7 apg) "a dynamo, one of the best point guards in the area," but this year's hopes hinge on 6-5 junior C Tabitha Chambers. Knee problems have kept her from playing a full season, and she had surgery on both knees this summer. If she stays healthy, Connally will have much needed height. Seniors Rebecca Childers (5-7) and Roshawn Diggs (6-0) and sophomores Lakeisha Dukes (5-6) and Nakia Downing (5-5) will see a lot of action. "We're small but pretty good," said Connally. "We don't have much bench and probably can't handle Western this year." Nevertheless, Walbrook should handle everyone else in the city.
4 Mount Hebron (23-1, No. 3)
* The defending Class 2A state champs have plenty of depth and are loaded with excellent guards. The McCauley sisters, 5-6 senior Christy and 5-1 sophomore Erica, will team in the backcourt with 5-6 senior Cescili Drake, who has signed with UNC-Greensboro. Senior 5-9 F Andrea Day returns up front. Sophomore forwards Sandra Benson (5-9) and Kris Bryant (6-0) and freshman guard Emily Yanero (5-7) will play a lot. Seniors Tracie Eckstein (5-8 F) and Melissa Murdza (5-1 G) didn't play much last year but know the system and add depth. Coach Dave Greenberg said, "I'm cautiously optimistic. I think we have the potential to be pretty decent. We have good guards, but we don't have the great athletes." Greenberg said his team played poorly in a 60-26 loss last weekend to Downington (Pa.), but the Vikings have already beaten Seton Keough, so he should know where they stand against area competition.
5 Seton Keough (22-4, No. 4)