With the dissolution of the Maryland Scholastic Association this spring, the metropolitan area's private schools no longer have to be concerned with the city's public-school track powers.
The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association -- the new league for private schools -- appears to be a balanced race, with perhaps McDonogh -- third in last year's MSA meet -- having a slight edge over the other teams -- Beth Tfiloh, Calvert Hall, Curley, Gilman, Loyola, Lutheran and Mount St. Joseph.
MSA champ Mervo still is expected to dominate the city's public-school track teams among the boys, as is Western among the girls.
Mervo's squad, which lost the 4A state title by 1.5 points to Quince Orchard, is even stronger this season behind All-Metro sprinters Anthony Stuckey and Ben Braswell.
MSA champion hurdler Antwon Nelson, a state runner-up in the 110 meters, helped last year's Mustangs dominate the MSA meet by 68 points.
Stuckey, The Baltimore Sun's Male Performer of the Year for the city, Braswell, Nelson, James Carter and Dante Palmer are five of the six runners who helped the Mustangs sweep state titles in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays.
Sophomore Mike Curtis was third in the states in the 1,600, and freshman Garfield Thompson was a national-caliber middle-distance runner with Ed Waters' track club over the summer.
Mervo high jumper Mike Fields, who jumped 6-feet, three inches two years ago, returns to fill the vacancy left by MSA champ Sheldon Downey, who graduated.
The Mustangs' schedule includes some events with stiff competition: the Gilman Relays, the Penn Relays, the Towson Relays and the Arundel Invitational.
"We've got 25 quality runners, so we can't hide from anyone. But since the rest of the state has indoor track [the city public schools don't], we have a lot of catching up to do," said Mervo coach Freddie Hendricks, The 1993 Baltimore Sun's Boys Coach of the Year for Baltimore City.
"In the end, though, I expect to be there."
Poly, dethroned last year by Mervo after three straight MSA titles, already has lost a dual meet, 71-63, to an up-and-coming Lake Clifton squad that has blossomed under second-year coach Paul Williams.
The Lakers will depend greatly on sprinters/middle-distance runners Brian Harold, Warren Sharp and Kevin Toliver, with Sharp also handling the long and triple jumps.
Poly transfer Sekou Selli is a raw talent who runs the 40-yard -- in 4.3 seconds.
The Lakers also have hurdler Greg Crowley, middle-distance runners Avery Miles and Robert Bowser, and distance runners Maurice Jones and Daniel Magnault. Tackling field events is Leroy Hamright.
Carver's Walter Cole is pleasantly surprised with sprinters James Rooths, Andre Falcon, Alphonso Adams and Elmalik Robinson-El.
"I think our sprinters are probably second to Mervo," said Cole.
Cole said middle-distance runner Dayvian Johnson already has run a promising 4:35 in the mile, and David Johnson has clocked below 53 seconds in the 400. Also returning for Carver is high jumper Martin Muse, who ended last year with a leap of 6-2.
Poly is hurting without multi-event talent Greg Kyler, The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year in football. Kyler, who has signed to play at Tennessee, is academically ineligible.
Another talented sprinter, Carlos Dunmoodie, is on crutches recuperating from "ligament problems, but should be back in two weeks," said first-year coach David Mack.
The leaders are sprinters and co-captains Malik James and Tavon Teal, along with Jaison Bloom (800, 400). Other Poly sprinters are David Peterson and Anthony Okoye, with Sam Mercer handling the shot put and discus, and David Peterson the hurdles.
In the MIAA, McDonogh's Eagles have Kevin Cummings off of last year's MSA champion 3,200 relay squad, Eric Beavois, an MSA runner-up in the 1,600, and Eric Bind and Anders Fristedt, who were third and fourth, respectively, in the MSA cross country meet.
McDonogh coach Jeff Sandborn is high on Sean Sullivan, a decathlon-type who will compete in the pole vault, triple and long jumps, discus and possibly the hurdles. Vance Row and Pete Lawson will handle the discus and shot put.
The Eagles also have a strong girls team, but only Mount de Sales, Catholic and Lutheran field teams among the private schools, so there is no formal league.
Calvert Hall's Rick Desi won last year's MSA discus title and Ryan Snyder (pole vault) was second. But the Cardinals are strongest in the distance events, where 3,200 MSA champ Jonathan Dietrich -- who was third in the 1,600 -- the Martin twins (Kyle and Kurt) and Doug Stewart return.
Loyola will be led by MSA pole-vault champ, Jim Brennan, who recently cleared 12-6, and sprinter Brandon Larkins, an MSA runner-up in the 200 and a fifth-place finisher in the 100.