With teams like Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Churchill, Springbrook, Wootton and Whitman, the Montgomery County AA has long been a highly competitive league in soccer. It should be even stronger this season with the addition of Rockville and Kennedy, traditional powers in Class A.
The Rams and Cavaliers feature two of the top players in the area. Last fall, Kennedy defeated Rockville twice during the regular season, but the Rams beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs in a shootout and eventually won the Maryland state A title. It was the Rams' third championship in four years.
With Curtis Pride, a senior, Kennedy has one of the most dependable scorers in the area. He led the county in scoring the previous two seasons and may be even better this year.
"He's twice the player he was last year," said Coach Jeff Schultz of Pride, who played on the United States' 16-and-under team in China this summer. "The international exposure makes the difference. He's making everybody else look good."
At goalkeeper, Larry Smedley could, perhaps, take the place of graduated all-Met Charles Arndt. On an undefeated jayvee team last year, Smedley allowed one goal. Sweeper Donald Coleman, center midfielder Jamie Meyers and stopper Gael Sullivan round out the strength up the middle.
"I'm generally optimistic," said Schultz, "but it is cautious optimism . . . I don't think we have the depth as last year, but I'm in a different region (II). That is an advantage."
Rockville Coach Larry Nuzzaci received a nice surprise when John Stroud, an all-Prince George's County midfielder at Bowie, moved with his family to Rockville. He will stabilize a Rams team that has two returning starters.
"He's outstanding," said Nuzzaci.
The Rams are overloaded with talent at goalkeeper, with four-year player Matt Hall and junior Tom Redmond. But outside of defensemen Heston Mederick and Joey Cavanaugh and midfielder Jason Kahn, Nuzzaci says he'll have to do "a lot of juggling and teaching."
Some of the county coaches seem to think B-CC could have a team as good as the one that was state co-champion last year. The Barons' Chris Conti, a smooth, fast and sometimes flashy forward who was a primary scorer last year, will team up front with Terance Reddick, who scored B-CC's goal in a 1-1 tie in the state championship against Prince George's County Eleanor Roosevelt
Coach Gene Hostetler says of Conti: "He has a bag of tricks and it can get him in trouble sometimes, but he's very intelligent."
Although the Barons have graduated half their team, Hostetler says, "Last year we had only five starters returning and won." Those returning include midfielders Rob Swann, Leander Gray and Taher Husain.
Wootton, 9-2-1 last year, will depend on top scorer and four-year starter Mark Dillon to lead a team of mostly juniors. "He will be everywhere," said Coach Matt Boratenski.
Of his team, Boratenski said, "I looked at them the first day of practice and said, 'My God, we're young.' " Among the juniors is midfielder and scoring threat Bryan Fielder, who started as a freshman.
"It's going to be a grueling season," said Boratenski. "It will be whoever survives. The middle of the season is 'Murderers' Row' (Rockville, Kennedy, Churchill and Good Counsel)."
Churchill Coach Henry Danver finds a silver lining in the competitive AA this year: "Fortunately, we play every team just once."
The Bulldogs, who lost only three games last year but missed the playoffs, seem to always field good teams and this season should be no exception. Senior forward Steve Kokulis, the team's leading scorer the previous two seasons, will get help from junior Marc Rose and seniors Dan Quastler, Fernando Camp and George Brodie.
At Whitman, the Vikings "are not going to dazzle anybody; they're going to have to outwork them," said Coach Sam DeBone. He said that last year the Vikings had the skill but not the chemistry. The opposite should be true this season.
Because goalkeeper Tim Helmig is so good, DeBone had to "get rid" of goalies that he says could start on other teams. From an undefeated jayvee team comes forward Dave Putzi, a 16-goal scorer.
In Montgomery A, Sherwood is moving up from Class B to give Richard Montgomery and Einstein another solid opponent. The Warriors return seven starters from their playoff team, and they are spread out on the field: at forward, Edwin Barber and Stephen Collins; at midfield, Derek McKelvey, who played in the playoffs as a freshman, his brother Mark and Jimmy Farrell; at fullback, Joe Farrell and Chris Sakkos, and at goalkeeper, Eric Muschter.
"From where we left off, we have everybody a year older and bigger," said Coach Don Gable, who is entering his 11th season.
An injury-free season would make Richard Montgomery Coach McCeney extremely happy, as the Rockets have nine starters returning, including all-county forward Rudy Meredith. Two players injured last year, midfielders Brad Rothrock and John Kettlestrings, along with fullbacks Ron Smith and Andy Beckerman, should help the Rockets reach the playoffs again this season.
Einstein, 9-3 last year and also moving up one level to Class A, has a leader in defenseman Denis Hamlett but graduated most of its team. Magruder (3-7-1) has George Villegas, one of the top scorers in the county.
In Montgomery B, there doesn't seem to be enough competition to keep Woodward from reaching the state playoffs again this season. The Wildcats have experience defensively with midfielder Carl Kullback and fullbacks Will Harper and Joe Collins. Irving Williams, a striker and midfielder, is a key offensive player. Prince George's
While Rockville celebrates the arrival of Stroud, Lou Reck, coach of Bowie in Prince George's AA, laments his departure. "Right now, I could certainly use him," he said. "It's not going to be easy."
But Reck still has several capable players, one of them being senior goalkeeper Tony Mazzei. Another is forward Chris George, who was "a spectacular ninth-grader, a pretty good 10th-grader and will, hopefully, be an excellent 11th-grader." Kelly Wright, a point fullback, "should be a blue chip player."
Elsewhere in the league, Laurel, Roosevelt, Largo and High Point all seem to have a chance to finish near the top.
Laurel's Ernie Scruggs, an all-county forward as a ninth-grader, leads a team that lacks depth but one that is promising under first-year Coach Terry Parfitt, who took the place of George Kallas, now at Roosevelt.
Parfitt praised midfielder Jeff Bookhultz and goalkeeper Robbie Mamula. "I coached an all-America at High Point, and he is potentially as good," Parfitt said of Mamula.
At Roosevelt, Kallas finds the players are similar to those he coached at Laurel. "To be honest, I'm kind of impressed," he said. "They're extremely intelligent. It's easy to adapt.
"(Dredger and I) both like playing the short-ball game. I like to keep the ball on the ground because I've had small teams in the past. Basically, we're drawing the same type of kids, same style."
Eddie Dovel, an all-Met forward, is the only returning starter for the Raiders.
Largo, which tied for first place last year, should have a productive offense with forwards Rob Kemppainen and William Walls, the leading scorer.
Although some coaches predict High Point will finish high this year, Eagles Coach Ken Griffith feels the team is behind in its preparations.
Douglass, which won Prince George's B the past three years, will probably be pressed by Surrattsville, Gwynn Park and Fairmont Heights. First-year Coach John Pish has a young team, with six sophomores starting, but senior forwards Paul Kittle and Kirk Connelly provide leadership.
Although Gwynn Park has 10 starters returning from an 8-4 team, new Coach Francis O'Clair said he is "guardedly optimistic." He also declined to mention any of his players. Howard
The same teams are expected to dominate: Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Centennial.
Centennial is considered by some coaches to be the best team, with all-Met goalkeeper Larry Valentine returning.
Oakland Mills graduated 13 seniors, but Coach Al Goldstein said, "Normally, that would mean that we would be weaker, but not this year."
Primary reasons for Goldstein's optimism are forwards Martin Payne and Darryl Simpkins, a 14-goal scorer. Junior Armstrong, a sophomore, is "very quick and a good ball-handler."
Oakland Mills will be tested at the goalkeeper position, where freshman Brian Doussey will start. "It's asking a lot," said Goldstein. "This is high-pressure stuff in Howard County."
Reg Hahne, who was an assistant to Goldstein, is taking over a successful program at Wilde Lake. The Wildcats will miss Todd Trimble, who set a county record for scoring. Steve McCarthy, Pascal Crosley and Robert Shaker will need to pick up the scoring load.
Defensively, Hahne plans to start freshman stopper Chris Williams along with sweeper David Anshen and goalkeeper Ed Mortimer Anne Arundel
In AA, the "dog-eat-dog league," as Arundel Coach Nick Jauschnegg calls it, Old Mill, Severna Park and Arundel have traditionally been near the top, and should be there again.
Jauschnegg has the advantage of 12 players returning, and most have experience from last year's 9-3-1 team that lost twice by 1-0 and once by penalty kicks in the playoffs.
Arundel doesn't appear to have a soft spot. Strikers Pat Thomas and Steve Kepler do most of the scoring and goalkeeper John Thomas keeps the opposition scoring low.
Two players who were injured early last season are expected to be an important part of Severna Park's success this year. Senior goalkeeper Warren Westcoat and forward Jeff Long, who was the team's second-leading scorer before breaking his collarbone, are healthy now.
Old Mill has a young team that will be stronger on defense than offense, something that is different from past seasons. Anchoring the defense will be Mike Marsella, Dave Harding and Gary Hickman. Southern Maryland
In Southern Maryland, defending champion St. Mary's Ryken is rebuilding, which means Thomas Stone or Lackey might finish on top. Thomas Stone, 8-2-1 last year, returns five-goal scorer Jimmy Wilson and Ricky Lesco, who had eight goals and 10 assists. In all, five players with experience return.
Lackey was 5-4 last year but has eight starters back, including two seniors, Dan Dulin and Ed Andres.