At the start of any given year, the team to beat is undoubtedly the team that is looking to repeat.

Yes, Commack lost a few key pieces to graduation after its Class AA state title. But the Cougars still return goalkeeper Ryan Sinnott, who posted 13 shutouts last year. Striker Anthony Izzo, who scored all three goals for Commack in its two games at the state tournament, is back. Midfielder Scott Cebollero will take on a more prominent role.

"The legacy that last year's group left will carry on," Commack coach Dave Moran said. "They saw the hard work it took day in and day out to achieve our goal."

But at every turn, the Cougars will be met with stiff competition. Brentwood is the shining example.

The Indians attack is led by Roberto Ventura and Kevin Alvarenga. Jefferson Portillo and Jorge Hernandez patrol midfield, with Marcos Buruca anchoring the defense. Three of the four losses the team endured in the previous two years came in overtime, including last year's semifinal exit against Whitman.

"It's pretty brutal and just shows you how tough the competition is," Brentwood coach Ron Eden said. "We're definitely motivated by it. We know our league is going to be tough."

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Whitman won't sneak up on anyone this year. The Wildcats return eight starters from last year's county finalist. Mike Lorello and Blake Aronson are versatile playmakers on either side of the field. Sean Zagorski is a dynamic defender, and Witman Hernandez and Fabrizio Chamorro are strong weapons on offense.

"Do we have the potential to get to the county final? Absolutely," Whitman coach John DiGiacomo said. "But there are a lot of quality teams at the top. The level of play there is so equal, especially come the playoffs."

With premier defender Kelechi Akujobi on one side of the field and dangerous forward Ryan Innes on the other, North Babylon will vie for a spot in the Final Four, as well.

Smithtown West, Central Islip, Ward Melville, Half Hollow Hills East and Hills West also will be in the mix in Class AA toward the end of the season.

In a balanced Class A, Islip has emerged as a favorite. Forwards Junger Herazo and Connor Sharpe have played together on varsity since 10th grade and have chemistry. Jessi Torres, Matt Origoni and Matt Peterkin move the ball well and win a lot of opportunities in the middle. Connor Powers is a shutdown back.

"We brought back 11 starters, so we have a continuity, a familiarity," Islip coach Mike Argenziano said. "There's a confidence here."

Doug Minogue leads an experienced Miller Place squad that also will threaten for the top spot. Other teams that will challenge in Class A include Comsewogue, Sayville, Amityville, Harborfields, Glenn and Shoreham-Wading River.

In Class B, Southampton has one advantage over Mattituck and Center Moriches: experience. Jesse Scanlon, Gianluca Santacruz and Jacob Villalobos are three of eight returning starters for the Mariners.