Anthony Wayne ripped through the Northern Lakes League a year ago, posting a 14-0 league mark. The feat ultimately led to the Generals riding the momentum all the way to the Division I district semifinals.
With three returning starters back from a team that reached the Division I district final and finished 20-2, league coaches favor AW as the favorite to repeat as champs.
"We know there's a big target on our backs," said AW coach Justin Zemanski.
The NLL figures to be as competitive as it has been in recent years.
"For the most part, it's pretty balanced," Rossford coach Lorie Pietrasz, said. "But Anthony Wayne is better than everybody else."
The Generals are led by 6-foot junior Allison Papenfuss, an All-Blade first team selection a year ago. Papenfuss averaged 15.9 points and 10.6 rebounds.
Perrysburg was picked to finish second, followed by Northview and Southview.
"The league is pretty strong this year," Perrysburg coach Mark Schrock said. "Anthony Wayne is probably the favorite. They have most of their key components back."
Nicole Parrish (19.2 points, 11.4 rebounds) will play a significant role for the Yellow Jackets. Parrish, a 6-foot-2 senior, returns as the league's top all-around post player.
Northview coach Jerry Sigler agrees the Generals are the frontrunners, but thinks Perrysburg will challenge AW.
As for the Wildcats, Sigler returns a group that could also factor in the league race.
"We're going to have to be at our 'A' game to be really successful because a lot of other teams are more experienced than us and they have one or two dominant players," Sigler said.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Justin Zemanski, third year
Last season: 20-2, 14-0 in NLL
Top players: Juniors Allison Papenfuss, 6-0, G-F; Ashley Bromley, 5-3, G, Jordan Floyd, 5-11, F, Erika Schmidt, 5-11, G-F.
Outlook: The core of the team remains in place from a year ago. Winning a second straight NLL championship is first priority.
Papenfuss, who averaged a double-double a year ago, leads the Generals. With Bromley, Floyd and Schmidt receiving ample playing time a year ago as sophomores, they're also experienced enough to make this season potentially even better.
"We just want to come out and get better every day," Zemanski said.
The Generals' return to the top will require proving themselves early in the season. Eight of their first 10 games are away games.
Coach: Mark Schrock, 17th year
Last season: 16-6, 10-4 NLL
Top players: Seniors Nicole Parrish, 6-2, C. Juniors Maddie Gutkoski, 5-5, G, Aly Metzger, 5-10, g; Demi Moschetti, 6-0, F; Megan Jones, 5-10, F.
Outlook: If the Yellow Jackets are expected to contend, then Parrish figures to play a major part.
Perrysburg returns two starters among eight letterwinners back from a team that finished in a three-way tie for second place. Gutkoski is the other returning starter, while Metzger is back after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago. The play of less-experienced players, such as Moschetti and Jones, could go a long way in making the season one to remember.
"We feel we should be right up there with the top teams," Schrock said. "We're a better defensive team this year. We're quick and defend very well."
Coach: Jerry Sigler, 32nd year
Last season: 14-8, 10-4 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Karli Kasper, 5-8, G; Brooke Taylor, 5-3, guard. Juniors Paige Maroney, 5-4, G; Kelsey McCoy, 6-0, F-C; Katelyn Dobson, 5-8, F; Stephanie Rentschler, 5-10, F-C. Sophomore Olivia Fouty, 5-10, F-C.
Outlook: A few seasons removed from making back-to-back trips to the Division I state tournament, Sigler looks to continue to rebuild with young and talented players.
The Wildcats took a major step forward a year ago when they were competitive. Yet, their intent is to contend for a title.
"If we can get it together we can be right up there," Sigler said.
Kasper and Taylor are expected to provide senior leadership for a team that will lean heavily on underclassmen making contributions. Maroney, McCoy and Dobson - all juniors - make up part of a team that may be as experienced as any in the league.
Rentschler, who did not play as a sophomore, and Fouty could ultimately play significant roles.
Coach: Todd Bostater, fourth year
Last season: 14-8, 10-4 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Brooke Gates, 5-8, G; Afua Nantwi, 5-11, F. Juniors Genna Vermilya, 5-9, G; Krissy Rowe, 5-8, G; Alixe Korsnack, 5-7, G. Sophomore Tiffany Scott, 5-11, C; Kate Blankerts, 6-0, C. Freshman Ariel Gaston, 5-6, G.
Outlook: With four returning letterwinners, including two starters, the Cougars are expected to finish in the top half of the league. Exactly where is the question the Cougars must answer on the court.
Gates and Nantwi represent Southview's most experienced returners. Gates averaged seven points last season while Nantwi came through with 5.2 rebounds per outing to help the Cougars finish in a three-way tie for second place.
"We're a very young team," Bostater said. "How quick the young kids accept the system will be key."
Coach: Mike Hampton, fourth year
Last season: 10-12, 6-8 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Alexis Simpson, 5-10, F; Kayla Plaund, 5-8, G; Christine Zappone, 5-8, G. Juniors Morgan Coulter, 6-0, F; Sarah Dean, 5-6, G. Sophomore Lindy Martin, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Blue Devils could be the surprise team of the league. Hampton has three returning starters and plenty of players who saw action a year ago.
Coulter, who averaged 8.8 points and 4.0 rebounds as a sophomore, leads the most talented team Hampton has had.
"The key is we're deeper than we've ever been," Hampton said. "Our depth chart is 13 and we'll play all 13. We've never had this before."
Simpson, Plaund and Zappone should provide senior leadership on a team looking to improve upon last season's fifth-place finish. Dean returns to action after sitting out her sophomore campaign with an injury.
"It's going to be very competitive," Hampton said. "Perrysburg, along with Anthony Wayne and Northview should be right up there at the top. Hopefully we should be right up there competing with them."
Coach: Jeff Nichols, fourth year
Last season: 1-19, 1-13 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Whitney Lane , 5-11, F; Ashley Horak, 6-2, C; Jill Stechschulte, 5-8, G-F; Andrea Renny, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Bobcats are looking to claw their way out of the league's cellar.
With limited experience, establishing team chemistry early will be key in the Bobcats' attempt to turn the program around.
Lane returns as the most seasoned player in a group that needs to gain confidence in the early stages of the season.
Coach: Lorie Pietrasz, second year
Last season: 3-17, 1-13 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Katie Keller, 5-10, F; Christine Nirschl, 5-11. Junior Anne Yenrick, 5-11, C.
Outlook: With a year's experience in Pietrasz's system, the Bulldogs enter the season knowing what is expected and understanding the game plan.
Keller returns as the most seasoned player among the group after averaging seven points and just under four boards as a junior. Her play figures key in the Bulldogs' push for improvement from a year ago.
Nirschl and Yenrick enter the season also expecting to provide leadership after contributing to the Bulldogs' cause a year ago. Pietrasz is optimistic.
"We're better than we were last year, but we still have to keep making progress," she said.
Coach: Mimi Olson-Takats, 1st year
Last season: 5-15, 4-10 in NLL
Top players: Seniors Sasha Matyi, 5-8, F; Caitlyn Theaker, 5-5, G; Rachel Cryan, 5-3, G; Dominique Seiple, 5-4, G. Junior Stacey Diegel, 5-9, G.
Outlook: Olson-Takats brings in a new system. The Panthers will rely heavily on guard play to get the job done. All five returners from last season are guards.
"We're very quick and the players are hard-working and they don't give up," Olson-Takats said. "We don't have a lot of inside game. We're guard-heavy and height-wise we're not very big."
The seniors, led by Matyi, will be called on early to grasp the system and run with it. Finding good team chemistry early could go a long way.
"I think my expectation as a whole is to build a program from the ground up," Olson-Takats said. "It's not going to be overnight. It will take time."