At the end of last year's high school swimming season, 15 Washington-area athletes gained all-America or honorable mention high school honors. Of that group, nine were from Maryland, and all return this winter.

Sherwood sophomore Kelley Davies is the only Maryland swimmer returning who was named an automatic (as opposed to an honorable mention) all-America in the high school division. Davies is a sprint freestyler, winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events in last year's Washington Metropolitan High School Swimming and Diving Championships (Metros). Her times of 23.97 and 52.16, respectively, were fast enough to be ranked 13th of 32 and 27th of 31 on the automatic lists in the two events.

Davies' nearest competition in the sprints, Seton's Joan Costello, also is returning. As a junior, Costello made all-America in two individual events as well as a member of Seton's 400-yard freestyle relay. In last year's Metros, Costello was second to Davies in the 50-yard freestyle, swimming a 24.69. That time ranks her ninth of 15 on the prep list. Costello also lost to Davies in the 100 freestyle, swimming a 53.05, which ranked her seventh of 15.

Costello, along with relay teammates Marianne Markey and Gretchen Greene, both juniors, make a strong threesome in search of a fourth swimmer to complete a relay. Seton won last year's Metros relay event by a six-second margin, at 3:47.31, and with almost any fourth-girl replacement Seton appears able to defend its title.

Another who qualified for two events as an all-America is sophomore Ylva Bostrom of Holton Arms. She qualified 12th of 15 in the 100 butterfly and captured the final honorable mention spot in the 200 freestyle.

Bostrom will have plenty of competition in the 200 freestyle. O'Connell's Donna Van Ryne and Gaithersburg's Sue Habermas, who touched ahead of Bostrom last year, return.

In the butterfly, Bostrom may have the top slot in the area by default. Last year's champion, Brooke Moore of Sherwood, has graduated.

The only boys making all-America were on Good Counsel's 400 freestyle relay. John Blasic, John Kidwell, Andy Spahn and Mike Raue won the event in the Metros last year by almost 10 seconds with a meet record of 3:17.09. They captured the second honorable mention spot.

The Falcons, however, will be looking for three replacements as Blasic, Raue and Kidwell graduated. Sophomore Frank Desando, who should make an impression in the 200 freestyle, will probably take one of the spots on the relay.

The winners have both graduated in the 100-yard freestyle and Spahn, who finished third in that event, has an unimpeded step up this year. Spahn, with senior John Lepkowski, will be leading the Falcons against a strong Wootton squad.

Another returning standout is Woodward breaststroker Jamie Moore, who finished second to Whitman's Tony Barnett by two seconds and will be aiming for Barnett's meet and county record in the 100-yard breaststroke. Barnett swam a 1:00.37. Moore's teammate, sophomore Bryan Nicosia, was the youngest male competitor at the Olympic trials this summer. Last year, Nicosia, also a breaststroker, concentrated solely on his Olympic events and is competing at the high school level for the first time.

Kennedy finished fifth in the Metros last year, and should do as well this year. Back for the Cavaliers is senior Chris Spector, who was fourth in last year's Metros 100 backstroke and fifth in the 200 individual medley.

Freshman to watch are Wooton's Eric Lichtman and Churchill's Mike Barroman. Both are accomplished age group and summer swimmers.

On the girls side, distance specialist Carmen Brun of Wootton, the 1983 Metros champion in the 200 individual medley and second in the 500 freestyle with a Montgomery County record 5:03.84, returns. Wootton's girls won the Metros last year by almost 30 points and were only slightly affected by graduation. With a number of promising newcomers, Coach Denise Adams is hoping to repeat.

Einstein junior Courtney Leigh, two-time 100 breaststroke champion, returns to defend her title against a talented field. As a freshman, Leigh set the meet record at 1:07.32 and last year was timed in 1:07.53. This year, senior Cathy Schmitt of Magruder is the highest-ranking Metros finalist returning (fifth). But Leigh's toughest competition will come from Richard Montgomery freshman Karen Masal, who was timed in 1:09.78 in her first meet of the season.

The Rockets also have sophomore Tracy Gawler, who was third in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 butterfly at last year's Metros.

Prince George's swimmers compete on a club level in a sport that is not sanctioned by the county's board of education. A county athletic official said the decision to make swimming a varsity sport was tabled last summer and has not been reopened.

A number of Frederick County schools field swim teams, but do not compete against schools in the Washington area.