The magic word around the Carroll County boys basketball scene this season is hope.
The county teams all are hoping that more experience and new talent can offset the loss of key players this year.
Westminster may have lost the most talent, but the Owls still have strength to help defend their county title. But they'll probably have to fight off South Carroll, which has some strong players back.
Westminster and South Carroll also figure to battle Frederick and Thomas Johnson for the top spot in the Central Maryland Conference.
Francis Scott Key continues to improve, hoping to take another step toward .500. The Eagles jumped from one win to seven last year, including a perfect 2-0 county record.
But Key likely won't be in a position to battle the likes of Middletown, Walkersville and North Hagerstown for the Monocacy Valley Athletic League title.
Both North Carroll and Liberty hope to make their ways back from trying 1990-91 seasons. The two combined for only nine victories and have much of theirtalent back.
Here's a look at what 1991-92 should hold:
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY EAGLES
Francis Scott Key coach Jeff Cook hopes his team can use its experience to take yet another step up the ladder.
The Eagles, who improved from one win two years ago to a 7-16 mark (4-14 in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League and 2-0 in the county) and a playoff berth last year, have four starters back -- leading scorer Scott Kreit, a 6-foot-1 junior forward who averaged 13 points; center Eric Bohn, a 6-2 senior; 6-0 junior forward Paul Coale; and 5-7 senior point guard David Layman.
All four played big roles in the Eagles'improvement last year. The team was 6-5 at one point but faded, although it did make the playoffs. Cook said he hopes the experience gained last season helps this year.
"I'm hoping that the kids getting the experience of winning last year . . . will carry over," said Cook.
The outside shooting should be better, thanks to a pair of new junior guards, 5-10 John Engle and 5-11 Jason Smith.
Cook said thatalthough the team will be outmanned at times, with some hard work, Key could continue to make improvement.
Coach Scott Kohr is hoping a year's experience can improve the Lions' 3-19 overallrecord (2-10 in the Central Maryland Conference).
"We've got a lot of experienced ballplayers," he said. "And we've got a lot of juniors who will have to step in and contribute."
The Lions have six returning seniors on the squad. Sean Custis and Gray Johnson will form the backcourt and 6-3 Pat Gagen will be in the middle. Flanking him at the forwards will Matt Alexander (10 points and six rebounds per game) and Kevin Grubb.
In addition, 6-2 senior center Tim Ahearn and6-3 junior forward Eric Priddy will provide some much-needed size. Two juniors who could help are forward Mike Davidson and guard Ross Yastrzemski.
Three of the Lions' most glaring weaknesses last year were turnovers, a low shooting percentage, and rebounding. Indeed, much of their practice time has been devoted to shoring up these shortcomings, Kohr said.
"These are the three areas we've been working onsince day one," said Kohr.
NORTH CARROLL PANTHERS
Coach Pete Litchka has many of the same players back from last year's 6-16 squad, but hopes for some better results.
Ten Panthers return, and Litchka said the experience is a plus. The Panthers (1-11 in the Central Maryland Conference and 1-6 in the county) need to shoot better this year, and Litchka is optimistic about that.
Like last year, Litchka will rely heavily on the bench and many players should see action. Withno one averaging in double figures, balanced scoring will be a key.
The six returning senior guards include Rich Cutair, Jason Glover,Benny Jackson, Jim Johnson, George Wunder and Wade Zufall. The returning senior forwards are Adam Franklin, Andy Roach, Eric Nowicki and Dave Polischeck.
Franklin is the tallest of the group, at 6-5, andis an outstanding leaper -- he competed in the high jump in track --and he could boost the Panthers' fortunes under the boards.
Litchka said that, despite the final record, he saw progress last season. He is hopeful that improvement will carry over since much of the castis the same.
SOUTH CARROLL CAVALIERS
South Carroll finished 12-10last season and the Cavaliers return many key players, but coach JimCarnes cautions that does not necessarily guarantee repeat success.
"Everyone else has a lot of players returning, too," he said.
The Cavaliers have eight seniors from last year's Class 3A regional semifinalists. Mike Downs, a 6-5 forward and South Carroll's leading scorer from last year, heads the list. Bryan Stauch, 6-4, will man the pivot.
The guard rotation will consist of seniors Joe Goodwin, Hank Zuretti, Steve Schultz and Stephen Dowell.
Interestingly, despite their better-than-average size, Carnes says the Cavaliers will not necessarily win the battle of the boards.
"We had size last year, but we didn't rebound well," he pointed out. Perhaps 6-3 junior forward Brian Wellen can help out here.