If the regular season to date is any indication, Howard County girls’ soccer teams should buckle up for a grueling and unpredictable playoff ride. With a week’s worth of regular season games remaining, five teams are within five points or two wins of current county leader and defending state champions River Hill (8-4-1, 8-1-1 Howard County).

Atholton (5-4-1, 5-3-1) stands in sixth, but has beaten River Hill and second-place Wilde Lake (8-3-2, 8-2-1). Wilde Lake beat fellow second-place squad Centennial (9-2-1, 7-2-1), but lost to eight-place Howard (4-6-0, 3-6-0). Reservoir (9-3-0, 7-3-0) and Marriotts Ridge (9-2-2, 6-2-2) are both a big final week away from making a run at one of the top three seeds.

In other words, close games and a few surprises are pretty much the only guarantees for Howard County teams as the playoffs near.

“Our county seems to be pretty competitive, especially this year,” said Atholton Coach Stephanie Stoutenborough, whose team beat River Hill, 2-1, last week to give the Hawks their first conference loss of the year. “It’s been inconsistent: some teams will be beating one team, then lose to another team. I think right now, any win in our county is a good win.”

That loss avenged Atholton’s heartbreaking loss to River Hill in last year’s region finals, a game that ended on a last second Hawks’ goal scored when a ball bounced off an Atholton defender and into the Raiders’ net.

“In our section [for playoffs], it’s all Howard County teams. Obviously, we know it’s going to be competitive,” Stoutenborough said. “We’ve played these team’s and we know it’s not going to be a cakewalk. It’s going to be a hard game, every game.’

Calvert, Huntingtown leading the SMAC

When Huntingtown played Calvert last Tuesday night, both teams were undefeated in SMAC play, and each was hoping to prove its regular season conference supremacy.

But the game ended in a 0-0 tie after two overtimes, leaving those looking for a clear-cut top squad to look only at in-conference goal differential as a potential separator.

Huntingtown (9-0-1) has outscored opponents 52-3. Calvert (8-0-1) has outscored them 49-1. The Cavaliers have done it with a strong showing from senior goalie Brooke Bailey, but credit their midfield with anchoring their near-impermeable defense.

“I think two people that don’t really show in the stats are our two holding mids, sophomore Biz and senior Bri Hite. They’re sisters and they work really well together,” junior Hailey Williams said. “When we play good teams that consistently get into our defensive third, Liz and Bri clean up any bad touches, they get the ball back before it even has to get to our back four.”

Williams (seven goals, 18 assists) and classmates Alli Higgs (10 goals, 11 assists) and Melanie Lippert (13 goals, seven assists) lead a possession-0riented Cavaliers’ offense that also aims to lessen the load on Bailey and the back line.

“I think our style of play compared to the other teams we play, I think we try to keep the ball more,” Williams said.” We know if we possess the ball, we’ll be able to create opportunities for ourselves.”

Calvert lost in the state semifinals last year, and hopes that possession will lead to strong defense — which will lead to a slightly longer playoff run in 2013.

“We want to win states,” Higgs said. “That’s the focus.”

Rankings: Post Top 10

Lilly Weber scored for the Cardinals as Bishop Ireton tied Good Counsel 1-1 in an impressive WCAC showing Tuesday. The Falcons were without Imani Dorsey, who is currently at camp with the U-18 national team. . . . River Hill drops out after losing 2-1 to Atholton. . . . Broadneck enters the top ten for the first time thanks to a perfect Anne Arundel record with two games to play.

1. Good Counsel (11-0-5 LW: 1

2. O’Connell (8-2-0) LW: 2

3. Spalding (10-2-1) LW: 3

4. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (10-1-1) LW: 4

5. Whitman (8-1-1) LW: 5

6. Holy Cross (6-1-1) LW: 6

7. Bishop Ireton (6-3-3) LW: 10

8. Arundel (9-1-0) (LW: 8)

9. Damascus (11-0-0) LW: 9

10. Broadneck (10-0-0) LW: NR

On the Bubble:

Calvert (8-0-1), Huntingtown (9-0-1), Quince Orchard (8-1-1)