Another high school girls basketball season is under way, and Mount Hebron is defending county and state championships.
So what else is new?
Each year, the Vikings loom as the county's biggest target. Everybody wants a piece of a perennial top dog like Hebron, which capped a 23-1 season last spring by winning its fourth Class 2A state championship in five seasons. Along the way, Hebron went undefeated against the county to win its 10th league title in 12 years under Coach Dave Greenberg, who owns a career record of 243-51 (.827 winning percentage), including 156-12 (.929) against the county.
Although Hebron returns a formidable team -- led by returning starters Cescili Drake and Andrea Day -- the county's playing field is as packed as ever with strong challengers.
"It's amazing we keep winning every year," Greenberg said. "There's too many good teams out there. The rest of the county is getting better, and will continue to get better. Some teams have already passed us in terms of athleticism. We can be beaten. If we don't play well, we'll get beat. We're just trying to postpone that."
Greenberg has plenty of teams to watch over his shoulder, beginning with his chief challenger from last year, Oakland Mills. The Scorpions had their best season (19-4) in school history last year. They return four starters, field the league's most athletic team and hope to knock off Hebron for the first time in five years. They also have their eyes on a Class 3A state title.
Many other teams look improved. Howard, which saw guard Kristi Greer emerge as the league's top scorer last year, should be stronger with the addition of forward Krista Fulton. Fulton returns after missing the last two months of last season with a neck injury.
Glenelg has a new coach in Barb Wolf, but the Gladiators return one of the league's more talented, experienced teams and one of its more exciting players in junior guard Tanissa Dorsey.
Then there's Wilde Lake, which fought its way to a surprising .500 record last year and returns a still-young but up-and-coming squad led by junior guard Renita Young. Centennial had a disappointing season, but turned the ball over to a youthful, promising group that figures to take the Eagles back to respectability this year.
Atholton lost Player of the Year Sherri Orlosky to graduation. Yet the Raiders might fool some people if a talented group of players moving up from a great junior varsity team mature as Coach Graydon Webster expects.
Even Hammond, last year's doormat with a 1-21 record, is blessed with what could be the best infusion of young talent in the league.
Here's a team-by-team analysis:
The Raiders are one of the league's more curious teams. That's because people are wondering how they'll will fare in the absence of Player of the Year Sherri Orlosky, who has taken her wonderful talent to Notre Dame on a full scholarship.
Atholton returns two starters and will depend heavily on a handful of newcomers up from the junior varsity, which went 16-4 last year. Although he's concerned about inexperience, Webster thinks the Raiders will shine in other areas.
"Overall, we've got more depth, more height, more quickness and more court sense than last year," he says. "We were fairly competitive before Sherri, and we'll be fairly competitive without her."
The Raiders will be anchored by 5-9 senior power forward Erika Kean and sophomore point guard Allison Valentino. Kean averaged 10 points and 11.5 rebounds last year. Valentino averaged four points, four steals and four assists. Both should improve this year, especially Valentino in the area of scoring.
Webster will call on 5-7 senior guard/forward Denise Richardson and 5-7 junior forward Juanita Thompson -- reserve players last year -- to step into more pronounced roles. Richardson is off to a great start, averaging 8.5 steals and nine rebounds to spark the Raiders to a 2-1 record.
A promising core of newcomers gives Webster a nice blend of size, strength and quickness that may dictate how far the Raiders go.
Two 5-5 junior guards -- Vanessa Clack and Julie Ruprecht -- should provide depth in the backcourt. Clack's strong suit is defense and ball-handling. Ruprecht has a good outside shot. And two forwards -- 5-11 sophomore Kelly Smith and 6-0 junior Dana McGraw -- should give Atholton rebounds and toughness inside. All four figure to battle for starting jobs.
"I've got some advantages. I can start a group that's all 5-9 and runs well or a small team that passes well," Webster says.
The Raiders will have a tough time equaling last year's 15-victory total, but by the season's second half, they may prove to be quite a headache for opponents.
Coach Larry Kinsey suffered through a 6-13 season last year, mainly because he decided in mid-season to give the ball to a nucleus of inexperienced underclassmen. Kinsey thinks that experience will better equip them to lead the Eagles to an improved showing this year.