When Allison Diaz took over the St. John’s girls’ soccer program, prior to the 2017 season, she placed her most talented players in leadership roles. By doing so, her top players set the example for how the team should perform, while also raising team confidence and the overall level of play.

Diaz credited that practice to her young team handling high-pressure situations last year en route to winning the WCAC and DCSAA championships. With seven returning starters, Diaz didn’t need to change much this offseason to prepare for big games.

“The girls are going to be a little bit more ready for the competition,” Diaz said. “The mentality has changed from everyone on the team. Everyone now believes we can do it again.”

Maliah Morris, last year’s All-Met Player of the Year, and her sister, Makenna, headline the Cadets’ roster. Maliah Morris recorded team highs in goals (24) and assists (21) and was one of the team’s most clutch players, scoring a sudden-death overtime goal in the DCSAA championship game.

Makenna Morris, a midfielder, is competing this fall with the U-17 women’s national team, meaning she won’t attend all of St. John’s’ games and practices. Diaz said Makenna’s experience makes her more valuable when she’s with the Cadets since she now understands plays in a similar way to her coaching staff.

St. John’s uses a high-pressure, attack-minded system, that Diaz acquired from the international soccer teams she studied. The Cadets lost one of last year’s top midfielders, Grace Walsh, but return three other midfielders, all of whom are Division I commits.

The Cadets open their season with a rematch of last year’s WCAC title game, Sept. 18 vs. Paul VI.

“Some teams try to sit back, contain us in a small space,” Diaz said, “but there’s a lot of speed on the team we have, so we adjust pretty quickly.”

Here’s The Washington Post’s first rankings of the season, which will be updated each week:

Note: Records are from last season.

1. St. John’s (Last year’s record: 20-1-1) Last ranked: 1

Clemson commits Maliah and Makenna Morris are back as the Cadets look to defend their WCAC and DCSAA championships.

2. Good Counsel (13-5-2) LR: NR

Coach Jim Bruno’s squad returns eight starters, including Heather Hinz, who was last year’s first-team All-Met goalkeeper. Jameese Joseph, who made the All-Met second team, headlines the Falcons’ attack.

3. Spalding (9-2-3) LR: NR

The Cavaliers fell to Mercy in last year’s IAAM A semifinals, but they return 14 seniors and feature one of the area’s stingiest defenses.

4. Broadneck (17-2-1) LR: 2

While star midfielder Talia Gabarra is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Bruins have depth to fill the void. They’re still the team to beat in Maryland 4A.

5. River Hill (17-2) LR: 3

Three of the Hawks’ top players graduated, but Coach Brian Song’s team is still favored to win its third consecutive 2A state championship behind forward Brigette Wang and defender Danielle Poindexter.

6. Paul VI (15-4-2) LR: 6

The most physical WCAC team lost eight starters but returns one of the area’s top goalkeepers in Gretchen Bennett. The Panthers lost to St. John’s on penalty kicks in last year’s WCAC championship game but won the Northern Virginia Independent Schools crown.

7. Potomac School (15-2-2) LR: 7

Princeton commit Grace Sherman, one of this area’s best passers, will lead the Panthers as they try to defend their ISL AA championship.

8. Huntingtown (16-3) LR: 4

The Hurricanes graduated a large senior class after losing to Linganore in last year’s 3A state championship, but they’ll again be paced by midfielder Mia Isaac.

9. Quince Orchard (11-4-2) LR: 8

The Cougars lost to Urbana in last year’s 4A semifinals, but with seven starters returning, they could be the best team in Montgomery County.

10. Calvert (15-2) LR: 10

The Cavaliers lost to River Hill in the playoffs the past two years, but Coach John Baker hopes this season is different with an experienced group of upperclassmen.

On the bubble: Churchill (10-3-1), Whitman (14-1-1), Wilde Lake (12-3-1)