National Outlook

North Carolina's iron grip on women's college soccer supremacy is slipping, if only slightly. The Tar Heels have won 14 of the 17 NCAA championships in the sport but lost last year's final to Florida. As a result, North Carolina begins the season ranked lower than first for the first time in Soccer America's rankings.

Santa Clara, a national semifinalist last year, has the No. 1 spot in preseason, but North Carolina is second and the rest of the top five -- Notre Dame, Portland, and Connecticut -- are all considered on equal footing. From 1986 to 1994, the biggest gap in level of play was between North Carolina and everyone else. Now the gap lies between the top five and the rest of the top 20, but it is a smaller one.

Santa Clara has four preseason all-Americans: sophomore D Danielle Slaton, senior MF Nikki Serlenga, freshman MF Aly Wagner and senior F Mandy Clemens. North Carolina has three, including Women's World Cup veteran D Lorrie Fair. Fair has said that losing the NCAA final influenced her decision not to turn professional. That the Tar Heels are out to prove something should be enough to scare the rest of the country.

Florida joined George Mason (1985) and Notre Dame (1995) as the only non-Tar Heel national champions last season, but suffered heavy losses to graduation.

AMERICAN

Coach: Colleen Corwell (eighth season, 59-64-9).

1998 finish/postseason: 6-11-1, 2-6-0 CAA/first round CAA tournament.

Top players: MF Amanda Detterline, Soph.; F Katie Moore, Soph.; GK Tara Felton, Sr.

Outlook: An influx of local talent -- some freshmen, some transfers -- is likely to make the Eagles better than last season. Corwell will look for goals from Moore, a Good Counsel graduate who transferred from Navy, sophomore Ashley Gormley (Whitman), who transferred from Wheeling, and freshman Megan Monteith (Chancellor), who was an All-Met in the spring. American has more talent now that it can offer about 20 percent more scholarship money. Now, the question is how quickly that talent can blend.

Fast Fact: Excluding a 10-0 thrashing of Iona, the Eagles averaged just 1.18 goals per game last season, and graduates Dina Padula and Eleni Vagelatos scored 43 percent of the team's goals.

Home field: Reeves Field.

Tickets: Free admission.

GEORGE MASON

Coach: Jac Cicala (eighth season, 90-45-15).

1998 finish/postseason: 12-8-1, 5-2-1 CAA/second round CAA tournament.

Top players: MF Jaime Ricker, Sr.; F Katy Robertson, Soph.; D Stephanie Hancock, Jr.

Outlook: The Patriots lost eight starters, including GK Jaime Pagliarulo, the school's career saves leader with 375 and sophomore D Page Henry (Woodbridge), whose career ended after her fourth knee surgery this offseason. But Roberston (17 goals, 11 assists) and Ricker (six assists) return on offense and Hancock anchors the back line. Spring All-Met player of the year Caroline Kent (Woodbridge) joins redshirt freshman Katy McGee in a young midfield.

Fast Fact: The Patriots face six teams that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament.

Home field: George Mason Stadium.

Tickets: $5 adults, $2 children and senior citizens, students free with ID.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Coach: Michele Rodriguez-Smith (second season, 11-10-0).

1998 finish/postseason: 11-10-0, 9-2-0 in Atlantic 10/first round Atlantic 10 tournament.

Top players: D Courtney Wright, Soph.; D Katy McQuillin, Sr.; MF Kesha Christoph, Soph.; MF Erin Coppege, Soph.

Outlook: Consistency will be the focus for the Colonials, who opened last season 0-6, then won eight in a row and went 3-4 in their last seven games. Rodriguez-Smith will bring in seven freshmen in her first full recruiting year, including a pair of forwards -- Caroline Donoghue (St. Catherine's, Ontario) and Pirapar Patamasucon (Knoxville, Tenn.) -- who should provide offense. A 2-0 loss to Xavier in the first round of the conference tournament ended last season on a sour note.

Fast Fact: The Colonials begin their season at home Sunday at 1 p.m. against their former coach, Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, who is now at Maryland. Last year, George Washington lost to Maryland, 3-2, and Virginia, 5-4.

Home field: South Riding (in Loudoun County).

Tickets: Free admission.

GEORGETOWN

Coach: Diana Drake (first season).

1998 finish/postseason: 4-9-1, 1-9-1 Big East/none.

Top players: GK Shereena Chang, Soph.; MF Liz Delgado, Jr.; F Karin Ostrander, Fr.

Outlook: Drake, an assistant at UNC Greensboro the past three seasons, takes over for Leonel Popol, who resigned in December with a 38-55-3 record in the program's first six seasons. Opponents scored 77 percent of their goals in the second half last season, a fact which points to inadequate fitness, Drake said. With 27 players in preseason camp and walk-on tryouts next week, Drake is intentionally fostering a competitive environment and plans to make cuts.

Fast Fact: Five of the Hoyas' six fastest players are freshmen, as Drake made a deliberate effort to improve team speed.

Home field: Harbin Field.

Tickets: Free admission.

HOWARD

Coach: Michele Street (fourth season, 4-32-1).

1998 finish/postseason: 2-12-1, 2-6 Big South/none.

Top players: MF Amy Olsen, Jr.; F Erinn Garner, Fr.; MF Talita Keiller, Sr.; MF Rene Birmingham, Sr.

Outlook: With recruits such as Garner and Jocelyn Fisher, who played for elite club programs in Georgia and Delaware, respectively, Howard appears to be turning the corner from fledgling program to a competitive team. Garner should take some of the goal-scoring pressure off Olsen, allowing her to create more chances. Fisher provides speed on the flanks.

Fast Fact: Olsen took 42 shots on goal last season (scoring twice); no other Howard player had as many as 20.

Home field: Greene Stadium.

Tickets: Free admission.

MARYLAND

Coach: Shannon Higgins-Cirovski (first season).

1998 finish/postseason: 11-11-1, 3-4 ACC/second round NCAA tournament.

Top players: D Emily Janss, Sr.; MF-D Jackie Mynarski, Sr.; GK Ali Wolff, Jr.

Outlook: Higgins-Cirovski inherited a depleted team: five players were injured and seven others graduated, so the first spring practice consisted of nine players. But now MF Vita McKenna (knee), GK Riki-Ann Serrins (shoulder) and F Julie Nelson (back surgery) are healthy. As many as five newcomers may start for the Terrapins. D Tiffany Keyes did not return for personal reasons. Freshman F Valerie Lawrence (Good Counsel) helps offset the major losses on offense.

Fast Fact: Of the 54 goals Maryland scored last season, 72 percent were scored by Keri Sarver, Emmy Harbo and Robin McCullough -- all of whom graduated. Those three occupy the top three spots on the Terrapins' career points list.

Home field: Ludwig Field.

Tickets: $5 adults, $3 children, students free with ID.

NAVY

Coach: Carin Gabarra (seventh season, 57-38-6).

1998 finish/postseason: 17-3-1, 5-0-1 Patriot League/final Patriot League tournament.

Top players: F Shannon Filbin, Sr; D Justine Fisher, Soph.; MF Kristen Riismandel, Sr.; MF Michelle Nance, Sr.

Outlook: Navy returns eight starters and 12 letter-winners from last year's team, which set program records for wins (17), shutouts (14) and goals (52) while earning the team's first-ever Patriot League regular-season crown.

The Midshipmen failed to clinch their first-ever NCAA tournament bid, however, when they lost to Colgate in the conference tournament final. Most of a balanced attack returns and in the back, Fisher takes over the reins for sweeper Nicole Aunapu, who graduated.

Fast Fact: Five of the seven players who notched 16 or more points last season are back.

Home field: Dewey Field.

Tickets: Free admission.

VIRGINIA

Coach: April Heinrichs (fourth season, 39-18-7).

1998 finish/postseason: 13-6-3, 6-3-0 ACC/ second round NCAA tournament.

Top players: F Angela Hucles, Sr.; MF Lori Lindsey, Soph.; MF Tammy Westinghouse, Jr.; GK Megan Boehm, Sr.

Outlook: With nine starters returning from last year's team, which finished second in the ACC, No. 14 Virginia should be nipping at North Carolina's heels with Clemson and Wake Forest. The Cavaliers would seem to have little problem earning their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance, but a second-round loss to Georgia on penalty kicks last year "resonates even today," Heinrichs said. The only key losses were Ds Karem Esteva and Liz Botta, but senior Carryn Weigand, a starter in 1997, returns after a redshirt year to bolster the back line.

Fast Fact: Hucles is already the Cavaliers' career scoring leader with 104 points.

Home field: Klockner Stadium.

Tickets: $5 adults, $3 children, students free with ID.

VIRGINIA TECH

Coach: Sam Okpodu (seventh season, 44-60-7).

1998 finish/postseason: 9-9-1, 5-6 Atlantic 10/none.

Top players: MF-D Kerry Guenther, Sr.; F Wendy Kotwas, Jr; F Joy Nsubuga, Jr.

Outlook: Junior college transfers Kotwas and Nsubuga are extremely quick and creative players, giving the Hokies "something we've never had before," Okpodu said. Since scoring goals has been the team's primary weakness in recent years, having those two plus sophomores Carmen Chestnut (eight goals) and Victoria Sarfo-Kantanka (seven goals) is encouraging. Guenther and senior F Shannon Otto provide experience and leadership for an otherwise green group.

Fast Fact: The Hokies outshot their opponents by 4.5 shots per game last season but scored 1.6 goals per game while allowing 1.9.

Home field: Tech Soccer Field.

Tickets: Free admission.