1. Who'll be king of the hill in Montgomery County? This might be the most competitive season in years. "There are any one of eight teams able to win a state championship," Churchill Coach David Kelley said. Defending 4A champion Sherwood, the No. 3 seed in the West Region playoffs last year, moves to the North Region, where Thomas Johnson and Dulaney promise to make things tough on the Warriors. Meantime, in the West Region, Churchill, Magruder, Walter Johnson, Watkins Mill, Whitman and Wootton have legitimate shots of playing at UMBC in the state title game.

2. Who can stop River Hill? A particularly strong 3A East Region stands between the Hawks and a fourth consecutive state championship. The Hawks graduated seven starters from last season's team, but second-team All-Met D Matt Stara returns to lead a defense that allowed just 10 goals and had nine shutouts in 17 games. The realigned 14-team region now includes state runner-up and reigning 3A South champion Severna Park and 3A North winner Fallston.

3. Will DeMatha lose? The Stags have the potential to repeat last year's undefeated season. The two-time defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions started the season 3-0, including a 2-0 victory over McDonogh, one of the Baltimore area's best programs. Senior MF Kyle Albrecht and University of Maryland-bound MF Drew Yates have already combined for five goals and four assists.