The Vikings, the defending 4A champs, will have a title on their backs to start this season. (Shannon Turkewitz)

Last November, the Whitman Vikings hoisted the 10th state championship trophy in program history. They had completed a near-flawless season with a 2-1 win over Urbana in the 4A title match, and the celebration was joyous.

As a new soccer season begins this fall, the lasting effects of that title remain. Any state champion must spend the following season with a target on its back, and Vikings Coach Dave Greene is no stranger to this feeling in his 41st season coaching soccer at Whitman.

“As I’m sure some other teams will tell you, there’s a big, huge target on our back,” he said. “And I would like to think that we’re a measuring stick. Teams will think they’re successful if they’re successful against us.”

That’s not to say the Vikings will be in a championship hangover all season. They graduated plenty of talent but they weren’t decimated by the changeover like some other local champions.

They’ve successfully bounced back from a title before. They are one of two Montgomery County teams to repeat as state soccer champions. They did it in 1996 and 1997, then Sherwood did it in 2004 and 2005.

Despite the target, the benefits of winning a title are many. Greene said it helps maintain the program’s status as a competitive and fun place to be for Whitman students. They had more than 100 kids try out for soccer this year, many of them high-level players.

“There’s a lot of people that, in order to be a part of the program, have to work very hard,” Greene said. “Which is good. Everyone is highly motivated.”

While Whitman may be a telling test for some local teams, the Vikings will run into their own measuring stick this weekend as they take on St. Benedict’s, an elite program from New Jersey.

The Vikings lead our first rankings of the year (all records from last season):

1. Whitman (17-1-0) LR: 1

The Vikings spent the entirety of last season on top of these rankings. As defending 4A champions, they will be the team to beat.

2. Churchill (11-5-0) LR: NR

The Bulldogs have started this young season strong, earning a 2-1 win over DeMatha.

3. DeMatha (11-4-0) LR: NR

The Stags will face a tough schedule this season but return eight starters from last year’s squad.

4. Wootton (11-1-2) LR: 10

The Patriots return a strong senior class from a team that suffered its first loss in the region semifinals.

5. Gonzaga (14-6-1) LR: NR

Senior midfielder Ryan Elie headlines the Eagles’ roster, which features eight returning starters.

6. Bowie (16-1-0) LR: 8

The Bulldogs were dominant last year, carrying an undefeated streak into the postseason.

7. Broadneck (16-3-0) LR: NR

The Bruins fell to eventual champion Whitman in the Maryland 4A semifinals last season.

8. River Hill (16-1-1) LR: NR

The Hawks return eight starters from a team that lost the Maryland 2A title in penalty kicks.

9. Gaithersburg (13-1-1) LR: 9

The Trojans, one of Montgomery County’s best last season, return first-team All-Met midfielder Oscar Barrientos.

10. Georgetown Prep (14-2-2) LR: NR

The Interstate Athletic Conference’s regular season champions will find out right away how good this year’s team is as they face a tough early-season schedule.

Bubble: Bladensburg, Severna Park, St. Albans, St. John’s