With the regular season ready to get under way this week, all the county boys soccer coaches still have a few questions left unanswered.
Familiar questions like, "Who's gonna put the ball in the net?" and "How well will the new players blend in with the older ones?" or "Will the young kids be able to learn the new system in time?"
While there are still plenty of questions, optimism also abounds,as usual, from each coach. Here's a look at the county teams:
SCOTT KEY EAGLES
The Eagles, under Coach Granville "Gee" Hibberd, have an intriguing mix of returning veterans and inexperienced players expected to come in and contribute.
The majority of the Eagles' experience is up front and at the midfield spots. The question is on defense, where Hibberd must rely on several inexperienced players to hold down the fort.
Throw in the injury to senior goalkeeper Dave Hines,who will miss the entire season due to a back problem, and it's evenmore evident the key to the success of the Eagle season will rely onits defense.
"Missing Hines, who was to be a co-captain this year, will definitely be tough because he's a veteran keeper who could help out our young defense," Hibberd said.
But Hibberd says he has agreat deal of confidence in junior goalie John Engel.
"John is a heady player with a great attitude," he said. "He's a big kid with all the physical tools. He's also a talker out there on the field, and we're hoping he can fill some big shoes."
Offensively, the Eagles will look to junior forward Paul Coale and senior midfielder Dave Layman to do a large portion of the scoring, but Hibberd is hoping the goals will be spread around.
The Lions had another solid year under Coach Lee Kestler a year ago. They finished 10-2 overall and perfect in the county and Central Maryland Conference.
And once again, they have a handful of returning players with yet anotherhandful of younger players waiting not-so-patiently in the wings.
Kestler has 12 seniors returning. That number alone gives the Lions a decisive edge in the county and CMC races.
"The competition in camp has been real good. The older players seem rejuvenated with the younger players being so competitive this year," Kestler said.
Senior goalie Bill Reigel, a two-year captain, will lead the defense, while Kestler is looking for a handful of names to land in the scoring column for the Lions.
"We don't have any single star to carry the load offensively. Everybody is going to have to do their share," Kestler said.
NORTH CARROLL PANTHERS
North Carroll rebounded strongly last season, finishing 6-4-2, after having an uncharacteristic 3-8-1 record two years ago.
Every year (with the exception of 1989) it seems Coach Ed Powelson has a lot of question marks that he finds answers for.
This year is no exception.
The Panthers look solid at forward, with five seniors returning, and in the goal, with senior Scott Reaver back.
The questions start at defense, where four possible newcomers may start. There also is a limited amount of experience coming back at midfield.
"I'm concerned about the inexperience of our defense and midfield. We may have to switch some people around to keep balance," Powelson said.
The problems are nothing new to Powelson, who enters his 31st season as head coach of the Panthers. He's confident the team will find the answers.
"We should be competitive with anyone we play. It's just a matter of going out and playing hard and winning," he said.
SOUTH CARROLL CAVALIERS
Coach Charles Fazenbaker enters his sophomore year as head coach with a team still learning his system.
"Progress has been very good, and I'm optimistic. We're trying some new things and still got a ways to go," he said."But they're learning and learning. Just how fast they learn will tell it all."
South Carroll has 11 seniors returning whose only coach during their high school career has been Fazenbaker -- he was the junior varsity coach prior to getting the head job last year. That alone should prove advantageous to the Cavs.
Sparking the offense will be senior striker Tim Jenkins, who led the county in scoring last year, along with foreign exchange student Mads Phaysen.
"I expect to see a lot of scoring from my two forwards. The key is the midfielders. We also need some scoring from them," Fazenbaker said.
Westminster appears to be in the same boat as Francis ScottKey: loads of returning talent up front and at the midfield positions, but little experience on defense.
"The defense is coming along nicely," Coach Chuck Beaver said. "We have the four guys up from junior varsity who have played together for some time and also have a senior returning. We might have a floating lineup on defense, and it might come down to whether we need a physical presence back there or some finesse on a given night."
The Owls finished strong at the end of last season, winning four of their last six games and nearly ousting Liberty for the CMC championship.
Beaver is pleased with the overall talent and depth his Owls possess.