"I tell the girls each year that the target gets bigger and bigger on our back. But we have the team to step up to the challenge again."
Forward Shelby Layman, who tallied a Washington County-high 24 goals and was a Herald-Mail All-Area First Team selection last year, is back for the Leopards, as are forward Chelsea Hoover and defender Lauren Donley, both Second Team selections.
"We always set high standards," Fowkes said. "Our first goal is to win the regional title because that's the ticket to defend. Every year, that's what we talk about."
About the only honors Smithsburg hasn't attained recently have been achieved by North Hagerstown. Last season, the Hubs won their third straight county title and captured the MVAL Antietam Conference crown. They went 16-0 before falling to South Carroll in the 2A West semifinals.
North, however, has since left the county-laden Antietam and is now a member of the MVAL Piedmont Conference with fellow 2A schools Middletown, Walkersville and South Hagerstown.
Middletown is a perennial power and North coach Rick Aleshire said, "Walkersville might have the strongest team in the conference this year."
North, as a whole, will be more experienced. Last year, the Hubs started two juniors, five sophomores and a freshman.
But the three seniors who did start have left huge cleats to fill. Midfielder Courtney Whorten, North's all-time leader in goals (44) and assists (52), was the All-Area Player of the Year; Cara Thompson was a three-time All-Area First Team defender; and Allie Snyder was a First Team midfielder.
"The offensive side of the game, I think we'll be fine," Aleshire said. "But there are some big defensive holes because of the players who left. ... To say you'd like to go 16-0 again might be stretching the goal a little bit."
Identical-twin dynamos Stephanie and Maria Borland - who combined for 37 goals and 21 assists as sophomores last year - lead the Hubs' returnees.
Several other stars return to the Tri-State prep scene.
· McConnellsburg's Erin Chafardon led the area in goals (36), points (86) and points per game (4.30) last season.
· Forwards Sarah Cogswell and Jenny Perry helped lead Jefferson to the West Virginia state final four last year.
· Berkeley Springs' Corrie Riffle and Rebecca Trump were the area's top scoring tandem last season, combining for 50 goals and 26 assists while leading the Indians to their first winning season.
· Boonsboro's Lauren Hensley led Washington County in points per game (3.60).