Broadneck boys soccer coach Kevin McMullen says the road to the regional championship goes through Severna Park.
Most county teams won't even find the entrance ramp. Others will suffer breakdowns along the way.
All, however, are eager to begin the trek.
The 12 public schools and Queen Anne's of the Eastern Shore have joined together to formthe newly designed 4A League, which is split into two divisions.
The six largest schools -- Annapolis, Chesapeake, Glen Burnie, Meade,Old Mill and Severna Park -- make up the Friendship Division. The remaining seven -- Arundel, Broadneck, North County, Northeast, Southern, South River and Queen Anne's -- form the Bay Division.
"The county is so even from top to bottom, I don't think anyone can pick a favorite right now," Glen Burnie coach Jon Van Orden said.
"I think you could rate about five or six teams even, and whoever keeps injuries down and gels and has things break their way early will step in front."
Chesapeake coach Earl Eckhardt simply said, "The conference is brutal."
Even more brutal is the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference, with local private schools Archbishop Spalding, St. Mary's and Severn.
The following is a closer look at the county boys soccer teams:
McMullen may speak highly of Severna Park, but his Broadneck team had tongues wagging last fall after reaching the 4A state final.
The Bruins fell to powerful Bowie, 2-1, in overtime, but the season already had been deemed a rousing success.
Now comes the hard part.
"We lost nine players from the state game," McMullen said, mulling a list that includes the school's all-time leading scorer, forward Rich Aftoora (31 goals, 13 assists in career), goalie Sean Tettemer and sweeper Jarett Smith, the Anne ArundelCounty Sun's Player of the Year.
But wait, there's hope after all, and more than just a glimmer.
"We're in a very unusual situation," McMullen continued. "We'll be starting 10 seniors. Three were starters last season, and the others got a lot of playing time. It's not like they're rookies."
The returning starters are striker Matt Weimer (nine goals, six assists), center-halfback Jeff Vincent and sweeper Dave Apple, a converted fullback.
Tettemer is replaced by senior Mike Smith. "Sean did an outstanding job, and I think Mike Smith will be able to do the same," McMullen said.
Severna Park has its own quality keeper, senior Jason Zaks, who heads an impressive list of returning Falcons, like fellow captains Jamie Cornett (midfielder-fullback) and Steve Neuberger (fullback), and leading scorer Brian Peterson (striker-midfielder).
Peterson, who has 30 goals and 12 assists in his career, and senior striker-midfielder Mike Crawford again will keep opposing defenses busy.
The Falcons were denied a shot at their third straight regional championship last year when Broadneck prevailed in a shootout, 2-1, in the semifinals. But Coach Don Gregg said his team is "more focused."
"They're on the upswing. They're starting to go in the right direction," he said.
The Falcons sent North County heading in the wrong direction last season, beating the previously undefeated Knights, 1-0, in the 12th game.
The Knights' season ended in the regional finals, when Broadneck posted a 2-1 win.
Just three players from that North County team return this year. And one of them isn't Jody Haislip, the county's leading scorer.
"We only have about six kids who have ever played in a varsity game," said Coach Steve Malone, who lost nine starters to graduation. "Thereare eight sophomores and a freshman competing for starting positions, so we could be a sophomore-dominated team."
Only senior midfielder Josh Merrill, junior striker Shawn Moyer and sophomore midfielder Chris Cosentino return, but the outlook isn't necessarily bleak.
Several underclassmen are being promoted from a junior varsity squad that went 8-3-1, and senior fullbacks John Lowden and Jeff Rattel weresometime starters last year. Keeper Jeff Boyer spent his time behindstarter Jesse Haislip.
"This team's going to have a totally different complexion," Malone said.
That could be music to the ears of South River coach Greg Carroll. Last year, his 10-4-1 Seahawks took their worst beating, 5-0, against the Knights.
Defender Chris Asher(four goals) is one of six starters and 16 returning players from that Seahawks team, which captured the Class 3A Region III crown beforebeing ousted by eventual state champion Oakland Mills in the state semifinals.
Senior keeper Kevin Collison returns after a four-shutout season, as do defenders Ryan Dunn and Andy Moede.
Old Mill coach Don Hobbs isn't worried about his defense. "The question is whetheror not we'll score goals," he said.
With prolific striker Eric Bathras gone, Hobbs is relying on a committee of players to fill the offensive void, including junior strikers Danny Knight and Nick Badalian and midfielders David Gray, Mike McNally (both seniors) and Don Yost (junior).