* Team to beat: Eleanor Roosevelt.
* What makes them so good: How many teams have a state title in their back pocket and a skilled 6-foot-4 center manning the paint? With Selena Nwude in the post, the Raiders will be a tall challenge for all comers. Nwude, who has committed to play for Pitt, averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and almost nine blocks per game. Senior G Davida Dodson returns as well for Coach Rod Hairston, who has turned around a program that went winless two consecutive seasons before he took over seven years ago.
* The contenders: Parkdale went from 5-16 two years ago to 17-5 last year, and there's reason to believe the Panthers could improve on that progression. Coach Selena Smith has three players who averaged double figures last year in versatile 5-10 senior G Courteney Morris, speedy 5-6 junior Zykia Brown and senior Stephanie Davis. . . . Suitland may have been the smallest team in the league, but the Rams went 16-8, including four losses by four points or less. The Rams scrapped their way to the region final in large part thanks to 5-4 guard Taleia Moton, a three-point gunner who scored 12.5 points per game as a sophomore. She'll be joined by transfer Teresa Neely, who started at center last year at Gwynn Park. . . . Largo was penciled in as a title contender at the end of last season, but the Lions took a hit when standout forward Vicki Collier transferred to Riverdale Baptist. The cupboard is not bare for first-year coach Ayanna Ball, who will lean on rangy 5-8 guard Rachel Barnes, a skilled all-around player who can score from three-point range. . . . Flowers Coach Patrice Frazier expects to compete for a league title after winning a school-record 15 games. Senior captain Brittney Jones, a 5-7 guard, was a part-time starter last year and 5-5 senior Simone Gunn brings experience as well. The Jaguars need to improve on their free-throw shooting, which hovered around 50 percent last year, when they were upset by Suitland in the regional semis.
* Best of the rest: Douglass makes the jump from 3A armed with little size but plenty of heart. The Eagles will rely on team speed and mighty mite guards Vanessa Lamison and Vanessa Siberon, both of whom missed time last season with injuries. Lamison is also a standout hurdler for the track team. . . . Laurel took its lumps last year, going 7-17 while playing eight players with no varsity experience, including four freshmen. The Spartans are hoping those growing pains, along with the return of senior Kandace Davis, will pay dividends. . . .
Northwestern enters Year Two of the Walter Clark era with lofty goals. Clark, who won four state titles at DuVal, has a team that can match up athletically with anyone in the county, but he's had to spend time working with his players on basic fundamentals. Junior guards Kendell Shepard, who averaged 14 points last season, and Michelle Dearing (9 ppg) will spearhead the Wildcats attack.
. . . Bowie has a new coach and cause for optimism. The Bulldogs, who won just two games last year, look to be much improved under Mike Hines. Gifted point guard Mischa Broadnax was recruited by many of the area's top private schools, but chose to attend Bowie and will start as a freshman. Hard-nosed guard Karessa Sauls is back for her senior year after scoring 13.6 points per game as a junior. Junior guard Mercedes White and sophomore Caroll transfer Brittany Chase are likely to move into the starting lineup as well. . . . High Point, which won one game last year, hopes 6-foot senior Courtney Lancaster and 5-9 senior Brittney Dildy can get things turned around. . . . In its first year of 4A competition, Bladensburg will look to junior guard Kenetta Johnson to carry a heavy load. Johnson made 21 3-pointers and scored a season-high 17 points in an upset of eventual 2A state champion Potomac.
-- JEFF ERMANN