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On the eve of the 2009 girls soccer season, none of the usual preseason indicators provides much help in getting a handle on how the season will go.

Most years, for example, it’s possible to look to the traditionally strong programs for indicators of quality. This year, though, things are different. Historically, no teams are stronger than Patch, Heidelberg and Ramstein, yet all are under construction this time around.

"I have about a thousand freshmen," longtime Patch coach Tom Manuel said by telephone Wednesday. "We’re going to be a young team. It could go either way. We might end up near the top or we might end up near the bottom. It’s going to be exciting."

Heidelberg’s Jim McCauley doesn’t have 1,000 freshmen, just 14 to go with 11 sophomores, he wrote in a Wednesday e-mail.

And Ramstein’s Ricardo Buitrago said in his Wednesday e-mail: "It seems the last couple of years have been rebuilding seasons for me. We only have seven returning players from last year."

The situation extends to the small schools. Mark McVicker of D-IV champion Brussels reports just three letter-winners returning from the Lady Brigands’ three-time defending European Division IV champions.

So tradition’s a wash this time around. Can preseason match-ups provide a clue?

Not if McCauley can be believed.

After hosting a jamboree at Heidelberg last Saturday that pitted D-I rivals Ramstein, Heidelberg and Patch, D-II contender Black Forest Academy and Hohenfels of D-III against one another, Heidelberg, McCauley said, finished with a victory, a loss and three ties.

"I think it was the same for most," he wrote.

Here’s a division-by-division look at the ’09 campaign, murky as it is:

Division I: The International School of Brussels won for the first time in school history last May, but the Raiders lost the heart of that team, All-Europeans Lydia Gray and Sophie Earll, to graduation and transfer, respectively.

"We have a young team," ISB coach Adrian Drury e-mailed Wednesday, throwing ISB’s hat into the rebuilding ring.

Although Patch had its ’08 All-European, Andi Marchant, transfer, Heidelberg and Ramstein welcome back their respective all-stars, junior midfielder Maggie Cutler and senior striker Macy Jepsen. Vilseck returns two All-Europe second-teamers, Shamyra Coleman and Tamaria Hollis, to boost its hopes.

"I believe that the division race for 2009 will be wide open," Vilseck coach Brian Swenty wrote in a consensus-catching e-mail.

Division II: Mannheim’s Lady Bison put together an undefeated season in rolling to the 2008 crown, and despite the loss of 23-goal scorer Alanna Crockwell should be well in the hunt in 2009, thanks especially to the return of All-Europe junior Anna Cressler. Cressler scored eight goals and had eight assists when not thwarting the opposition by playing sweeper.

SHAPE, the 2008 runner-up, Black Forest Academy and Bitburg, despite the loss of two All-Europeans, are generally in the picture, as is Aviano.

But Saints coach Hans Hillestad reported Wednesday his team, too, is rebuilding.

Prediction? "I think BFA is the team to beat," wrote Mannheim coach John Crockett.

Division III: Marymount is out to defend its ’08 crown with returning All-Europe striker Elena Carrarini leading the way.

"Most of our team is returning," Marymount athletic director Simone Trott said by telephone Wednesday. But the Lady Royals will be challenged by Baumholder, led by multi-sport All-European Katrina Alsup, and neighborhood rival American Overseas School of Rome, the 2008 runner-up.

Division IV: Marlena Schlattmann is the undisputed leader of three-time defending champion Brussels, whose streak will be tested by Rota, Alconbury and Menwith Hill, according to Lady Mustangs coach Pete Resnick.

Regional lineups(Divisional status in parentheses)

Region IAlconbury (IV)AFNORTH (III)Brussels (IV)International School of Brussels (I)Lakenheath (I)Menwith Hill (IV)Rota (IV)SHAPE (II)

Region IIBaumholder (III)Bitburg (II)Kaiserslautern (I)Mannheim (II)Ramstein (I)Wiesbaden (II)

Region IIIAnsbach (II)Bamberg (II)Heidelberg (I)Hohenfels (III)Patch (I)Vilseck (I)Black Forest Academy (II)

Region IVAviano (II)American Overseas Sch. of Rome (III)Florence (III)Marymount (III)Milan (IV)Naples (II)Sigonella (IV)Vicenza (III)

2008 championsBoysDivision I HeidelbergDivision II SHAPEDivision III AFNORTHDivision IV Rota

GirlsDivision I ISBDivision II MannheimDivision III MarymountDivision IV Brussels

2009 tournamentsDivisions I, II, III and IV: May 20-23 at Ramstein/Kaiserslautern

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