It's getting crowded atop the Catholic League in girls soccer.
During the league's first six years, Seton High won all but one game on its way to conference titles. Two years ago, however, O'Connell surprised the Roadrunners. And last season, Holy Cross shared the title with Seton.
Now, Paul VI joins O'Connell, Holy Cross and Seton in a first division logjam that may not be decided until the last game of the season.
"This is my ninth season coaching soccer at Seton and this promises to be the most competitive by far," said Maureen Lonergan, whose teams are 76-6-2 record in her eight seasons at the Bladensburg school. "I know some coaches think Holy Cross should be the big favorite, but there're so many good players in Northern Virginia that O'Connell and Paul VI should be able to play with anyone. And this also could be one of my better teams.
"I can't tell you who's going to win the title, but I can promise that this should be the best season in the league's history."
Appropriately, the league title won't be determined this year by regular season play. Instead, a postseason tournament will determine who's queen of the hill in early November.
Despite the loss of three-year veteran Debbie Belus, who moved to Florida, Seton might be the first among equals because of its defense, team speed and depth. Sophomore goalie Aimee Fellows confounded opponents with her skill and composure last season and should continue to improve. She'll receive defensive help from freshmen fullbacks Kim Schabien and Sheila O'Hare and senior halfback Stephanie Mayefski.
The offense is high-powered and quick due to junior striker Tara Houston, sophomore wings Teri Muldoon and Laurie Saunders and halfback Karen Fowler, also a 10th-grader.
Bolstered by the transfer of two of the league's better players, forward Suzanne Campbell and wing Erin Webster from Pallotti, Holy Cross Coach Sandy Young thinks that the Tartans are the team to beat.
"I really do think that we have the strongest team in the league and should win the title outright this season," she said. "But you win games and championships on the field, not on paper, so we have to go out and prove that we're as good as we think we are, and that won't be easy."
Three-year starter Katie Torpey returns at goalie and welcomes a host of proven teammates including Sharon Fegan and Colleen Finnegan (halfback), Ann Warner and Kathy Hoch (wing), Susan Mate (fullback) and Christy Shannon (sweeper). Add in surprising freshman fullback Mary Campenni and it is apparent why Young thinks her team has few weaknesses.
Defense is O'Connell's strong suit and goalie Kerry Albrittain is one reason why. Janet Robe, Jeannie Helling and twins Kathy and Eileen O'Brien are steady fullbacks. Midfielder Kristin Streb and forward Jenelle Langen will be counted upon for their passing and scoring, according to new Coach Alberto Starace, who also coaches Madison's girls soccer in the spring.
"We can beat anyone or lose to anyone in this league, depending on how well we decide to play," he said. "This is a good team, with the potential to be very good, but the days are over when O'Connell just steps onto the field and opponents will roll over and play dead."
Regina High will take some lumps this season as Coach Dick Goetzinger starts nine freshmen and builds for the future. But the Reggies already have the potential to upset any of the favorites.
Sophomore goalie Mary Catherine Colp will settle the defense along with Joanne Fattaleh, Latrece Quander, Michelle McGrew and D.J. Singer. Freshmen striker Mary Stringfellow and wing Becky Williams must contribute early and depend on help from halfback Joanne Best, striker Joyce Nyarko and forward Teresa Williams.
One problem is solved this year. Regina, which had played its home games at several park fields, has a new home field.
St. Mary's of Alexandria could be tough, especially at home, with a strong defense led by sweeper Marialyce Tobin and goalies Lisa Tiernan and Stacy Snyder. (Tiernan also plays fullback and Snyder is a striker-halfback when not minding the net.) Striker-halfback Mary Jo Locke, striker Cati O'Keefe and wings Dori Chiccolo and Kristin Hyde will power the offense.
Holy Names is once again faced with the problem of having several very good players, but not enough to be a title contender.
Andi Peck, Suz Podrasky and Julie Williams will lead the front line. Heidi Franke and Katie Fitzgerald will headline the defense and Katie McDuffie is the top midfielder. Sophomore Valerie Williams is the new goalie.
LaReine Coach Hector Cuellar will rely on goalie Colette Rohan and fullbacks JaNae and JaNeen Roscoe. Kim Helms is expected to lead the offense.
Pallotti appears not strong enough to challenge for the title, but needs only one or two players to become a cofavorite.
Last year's goalie, Janell Salazar, has switched to halfback and freshman Jennifer Cashman has taken over in the net, but such experienced players as sweeper Colleen Dolan, fullback Jennie Jacobs, striker Mary Lu Dovel and forward Mary Jean Trageser could turn Coach Mark Kunetz's team into a spoiler.
Three District Catholic Girls League schools (Holy Spirit, All Saints and Notre Dame) will not field teams this season.