It’s crowded at the top.
At least, that’s the case in Class 3A, where probably any of the top four teams in The Seattle Times’ state girls soccer rankings could have started the season No. 1.
But I’m going with coach Roland Minder’s Camas Papermakers, who return eight starters, including all-state defender Kailee Esser, goalkeeper Andy Soderberg and an assortment of other key players from a team that lost, 2-1, to Mercer Island in the state semifinals last season.
Camas has more starters back than the other three teams that round out the top four – Mercer Island, Glacier Peak and Kennedy Catholic. But make no mistake, all four of these teams are loaded with talent and are legitimate state championship contenders in 3A.
You can’t drop that deep with the same argument in 4A, where two-time defending state champion Skyline and Issaquah stand tall as the state’s elite to start 2010.
Kentwood is a strong candidate for the No. 3 spot but it gets fuzzy from there.
But let’s get back to 3A.
Mercer Island begins a new era with first-year head coach Nicole Nelson, a former Hanford High School star who assisted Adam Gervis the past two seasons with the Islanders. Gervis will continue to coach the boys team at Eastlake.
Mercer Island lost to Columbia River, 2-1, in the 2009 state finals and lost three Division I college athletes to graduation after that. But Nelson has strong players returning, including midfielders Tara Nielson and Celina Solomon, defender Claire Jensen and goalkeeper Corey Goelz.
They get a chance to showcase their skills Thursday night at Skyline in a game that starts at 7:30 p.m.
Glacier Peak has star power with midfielder Brooke Gilbert (University of Texas commit) and defender Malloy Leahy (Portland) and four other returning starters.
Kennedy Catholic has Rebekah Kurle, the Seamount League player of the year in 2009, and a wealth of other returners from a team state quarterfinal team that finished 19-2-0 last season.
In 4A, it’s almost a toss-up between Skyline and Issaquah for No. 1, but the nod goes to the Spartans not only because they beat the Eagles in the 2009 state finals but also because Issaquah is riddled with injuries to key players at this time.
Issaquah is ranked No. 35 nationally by the ESPN RISE Fab 50 rankings.But that was probably considering an Eagles team at or near full strength. They’re not.
Both schools return some top talent and good numbers from last season’s strong teams.
Here are The Seattle Times’ Week 1 state girls soccer rankings in 4A and 3A:
4. Lewis & Clark (Spokane)
On the radar: Richland, Gonzaga Prep, Woodinville, Ferris, Ballard, Redmond, Auburn Riverside.
2. Mercer Island
3. Glacier Peak
5. Mount Spokane
6. West Valley (Yakima)
8. Auburn Mountainview
On the radar: Pasco, Mount Si, Columbia River, Kamiakin, Liberty, Hazen, Enumclaw, Bonney Lake.