The Sherwood softball team, pictured during last year’s 4A state championship, has won 42 straight games but opens this season with a new coach. (Mark Gail/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Several key questions and answers as high school softball gets underway around the area:

Who will win the Conference 7 title?

Lake Braddock won the former Patriot District title over South County to end the Stallions’ six-year championship streak last season, and both squads won 20 games and return more than half of their starters. Bruins senior Ashley Flesch and South County senior Rebecca Martin are two of the top pitchers in the area after receiving second-team All-Met nods last spring. South County first-team All-Met senior Whitney Burks, who plated 30 runs and hit .532, will lead a six-player senior class.

Can the Warriors continue their 42-game streak under a new coach?

Sherwood’s second consecutive 4A state title last spring was the program’s 42nd straight win and the last under 17-year Coach Pat Flanagan. Four-year junior varsity Coach Ashley Barber-Strunk steps into the top spot with six returning starters on her roster, including two first-team All-Met selections in senior Towson recruit Meggie Dejter and Nicole Stockinger. The Warriors earned their first win of the year, 12-0, against Wootton. Their biggest in-county competition will likely come from experienced Northwest, which brings back six seniors. The Jaguars fell to the Warriors, 6-2, in last year’s 4A state semifinal.

Will National Cathedral grab the ISL AA title?

After spending three consecutive seasons in the ISL-A, the Eagles won the DCSAA titles last season behind senior second-team All-Met pitcher Sarah Ing, who posted 150 strikeouts. But Eagles lost in the ISL-AA final to Potomac School after going 7-0 in conference play. Sophomore Ellie Frank had 15 RBIs, and her role expands this season with the graduation of first-team All-Met Kinza Baad and Katie Johnsen. Potomac School lost senior outfielder Emma Wright, but will likely be near the top at season’s end. Flint Hill lost just one senior, and junior Monica Brensdel led the team in strikeouts (109), RBIs (23) and home runs (4) a season ago.

Is ‘the gold standard for softball’ beatable?

Northern boasted a 76-game win streak, six consecutive state championships and a returning All-Met Player of the Year in Jess Cummings at the start of the season. The streak ended at 77 and Cummings took the first pitching loss of her high school career with a 5-3 loss to Chopticon on Monday. “Northern is the gold standard for softball in the SMAC, and in the state,” Chopticon Coach Kevin Cioppa said. The Braves never played Northern in the regular season and lost to the Patriots in last year’s regional final. It was a true team effort on the Braves’ part, Cioppa said, and the first defeat of Northern by Chopticon in recent memory. Leonardtown, Huntingtown and La Plata are all expected to be contenders in the conference this season, and with the best team in the state’s win streak halted, more Southern Maryland teams should look to break through.

With the loss of key seniors, is Stone Bridge still tops in Loudoun?

After back-to-back 20-plus win seasons and consecutive state tournament berths, the Bulldogs graduated eight seniors from last season’s Virginia AAA runner-up squad. The ball will be in senior James Madison commit Jade Fleming’s hands this season on a young Stone Bridge team with just three returning starters. With the new conference realignment, fellow Loudoun County teams Briar Woods and Tuscarora are all competing for a Conference 14 title. The Falcons graduated just two seniors and senior SS/2B Jordan Counts will head a strong senior class after losing in the Region II quarterfinal last season. Woodgrove plays in Class 4A and has earned berths in three straight state tournaments. Key seniors catcher Rachel Harris and pitcher Jazmyn Rohrer are back in the fold.

Who will take the top spot in Howard County?

Defending Howard County champion Glenelg swept through county competition with a 20-0 season last year, only to fall to Lackey in the second round of playoffs and watch county rivals make it to the regional finals — and in River Hill’s case, the state tournament. The Gladiators return seven starters, including Monmouth commit Brooke Redmond, and are off to a 2-0 start in the conference despite a 15-3 loss to Anne Arundel contender Northeast. Maryland 3A East region champion River Hill returns eight starters and has 10 juniors, most with varsity experience. Mount Hebron (the 3A East runner-up), Howard and Atholton should also make a push for the county title.

The Post Top 10

Sherwood returns two first-team All-Met selections in Meggie Dejter and Nicole Stockinger, and junior varsity coach Ashley Barber-Strunk takes over at the helm …..Lake Braddock’s lone new face in the starting lineup is freshman Patty Maye Ohainan, who is committed to Illinois. The Bruins have high expectations in 2014 after being bounced by Centreville in the Virginia AAA Northern Region quarterfinals. . . All-Met Player of the Year Jess Cummings returns for her senior year at Northern, which has won six consecutive state titles. . . Glenelg brings back seven starters.

1. Sherwood (21-0)

2. Lake Braddock (19-2)

3. Northern (23-0)

4. O’Connell (30-1)

5. Madison (19-6)

6. Woodgrove (26-3)

7. National Cathedral (15-1)

8. South County (20-2)

9. Glenelg (20-1)

10. St. Mary’s Ryken (19-5)

On the bubble: River Hill (17-5), McLean (20-6), Chopticon (17-5)

(Final 2013 records)