With the Maryland state AA softball championship to defend, and most of his key players, including the starting pitcher, back, why would High Point Coach Wayne Snyder want to do some experimenting this spring?

The Eagles, who were 20-1 last season, have senior pitcher Karen Kimmel to throw at Prince George's AA opponents. She should again get strong offensive support from center fielder Elaine Mancuso and shortstop Jenny Burch.

Snyder said Kimmel will be especially important to the Eagles early in the season because some of his veterans may take time getting accustomed to unfamiliar positions. He made the changes looking to tighten his defense.

"I'm playing a lot of returns at new positions," said Snyder, "and our key to a successful season is in developing our defense."

Snyder knows the victories may not come as easily this year. Among High Point's toughest challengers is Northwestern, which despite suffering an early season defeat at the hands of the Eagles, still must be considered a strong contender.

Coming off a 15-5 season, the Wildcats return nine starters. Back are Toni Staunton. who, as a freshman last year, had a .508 batting average, and shortstop Kim White, who hit .462. The returning battery is pitcher Peggy Turner (15-5) and catcher Lisa Liller.

Roosevelt, with seven returning starters, also promises to be a strong competitor in Prince George's. The Raiders, who were 16-5 last season, will defend their Region I championship with four-year starting pitcher Karen Baczynski.

Also back are Julie Weese, who will move from center field to third base, and first baseman Suzy Demme. The hitting strength will come from sophomores Monique Morrow (right field) and Jenny Sokol (shortstop) and senior leadoff hitter Bonnie Jackson (center field).

Other contenders in Prince George's should be DuVal, Parkdale and Laurel.

The surprise in the Montgomery County AA division could be Wheaton. Although the Knights are coming off a 3-13 season in Class A, they enter AA competition loaded with potential, and are a key benefactor from last year's closing of Peary High School.

Wheaton has put together a strong defensive team, and sophomore pitcher Laura Hagan was second in the county in strikeouts as a freshman.

Other returning starters are catcher Stephanie Hawkins, outfielder Shari Goldstein and second baseman Lee Ann Riddle. Somewhere in the lineup, places will be found for five former Peary starters, including twin outfielders Barbara and Mary Kay Posniewski, shortstop Nikki Wantling, outfielder Linda Adams and first baseman Lisa Marden.

"Last year, I had pitching, but no hitting," said Wheaton Coach Walt Dupee, who recently led the Knights' girls basketball team to the state championship. "This year, I hope to combine Peary's hitting with our pitching to give us a good team."

Springbrook is out to prove itself in the AA after being knocked down last year from a 14-2 to an 11-5 record due to player ineligibilities.

The Blue Devils only lost three starters from last year and return pitcher Liz Jenkins and catcher Karen Rogers.

Kathy Treado, Gaithersburg's pitcher, has showed potential early in the season. Backing Treado will be Annette Rodriguez, first baseman Trish Nusser and outfielder Rosemary Shay, the only returning starters from last season.

Last year's county champion, Wootton, has a lot of rebuilding to do. With only two returning seniors, the Patriots are relying on freshman pitcher Michelle Karl.

Catcher Susan Pizzuti led the county last year in stolen bases. She will be a key to the Patriots' fortunes along with returning left fielder Trish Maguire and returning sophomore shortstop Nikki Marks.

In the Montgomery County A division, Rockville and Sherwood are looking to defend their positions as county cochampions, but the Rams might have trouble matching their 17-3 record of last year.

Only four returning starters are back for Rockville. The Rams are counting on third baseman Kim Rager to again lead their offense. Last year, she hit .508 and led the county with 45 RBI and eight home runs.

Moving from second base to the mound is Carol Manny. "She had a good opening game," said Coach Bob Burke, "and if our pitching holds up, we'll be a tough team to beat."

Sherwood returns captains Marian Dove at second base and Paula Ketter at third base, but, like Rockville, Sherwood's big question mark is its pitching.

After losing all-county pitcher Anne Shaffer, the Warriors are leaning on Carolyn Mondell this year.

Among Richard Montgomery's five returning starters are shortstop Janet Silva, catcher Bana Elliott and center fielder Kathy Snyder, the Rockets' third, fourth, and fifth position batters last year.

Little is new in the Prince George's AB League. Surrattsville, 19-1 last year, appears to be the best again and began this season by defeating Douglass, which is expected to be its strongest competition, 5-4, in extra innings.

The Hornets are 100-7 over the past five seasons, and won state titles in 1981 and 1983. Back this season are sophomore pitcher Cindy Crocker (17-1 last year), center fielder Chrissy Darmstead, shortstop Janet Baron and power hitters Kitty Harple and Denise Dixon.

Douglass could give Surrattsville quite a challenge. Pitcher Michelle Carmassi opened the season with a 20-0, no-hit victory over Central.

The Eagles have their top hitter, shortstop Monique Abbitt, back. Other returning starters are third baseman Kim Jones and outfielders Allison Poling and Kathy Quinn.