Dulaney volleyball coach Cary Lyon pauses when asked about the Lions' prospects for another Class 4A state championship. Lyon might not have hesitated last year, when the Lions didn't lose a game all season on their way to sweeping Severna Park in the state final.
"I never dreamed we would go undefeated," Lyon said.
Reality is that five of his top seven players graduated. Dulaney remains strong, however, and is back in the playoffs.
The Lions will play the Sherwood/Howard winner in the regional final. A win could set up a clash with Severna Park (15-0) in the Class 4A state semifinals Nov. 12 in College Park.
A meeting against Severna Park would be a matchup of the top two ranked teams in the Baltimore Sun's high school volleyball poll.
"Every year, you go in and there's a little bit of an unknown," Lyon said of the postseason. "Passing and serving is the most important thing. That's what happened to Severna Park last year. They didn't pass well and we swept them. This year, my team is not passing as well as last year. That's my real worry, but facing Severna Park will be a real fight."
The Lions got a dose of confidence when they won their fourth straight Baltimore County championship with a 25-19, 25-13, 25-23 victory over rival Towson sparked by senior outside hitter Milan Amos (11 kills).
Towson coach Emily Berman had gained a lot of respect for Dulaney's lineup, which also features senior setter Mallory Svoboda and junior setter Olivia Finckel.
"They are an incredibly strong team," she said. "They have two really good setters, which is really rare and it's even more rare that two of them are left-handed. That's a huge advantage to have on teams."
Dulaney enters the postseason with a 16-0 record, having won 48 out of 49 sets.
"A lot of teams compare us to last year," Amos said. "It makes us play better. We want to prove we are not as weak as they think we are. I think we can beat any team if we play our game, stay focused and don't make errors."
Dulaney's only two returning starters, the 6-foot Amos, and the 5-foot-10 Svoboda, along with 6-foot-2 Finckel, a transfer from St. Timothy's, gives Dulaney a superb trio that is difficult for opponents to match.
Amos leads the team with nearly 200 kills, Finckel has racked up 99 kills and a team-leading 33 blocks while Svoboda has chipped in 80 kills.
"I think the three of them are going to play Division I," Cary said. "Milan is an outside who is wonderful in the middle. She has this swing. Sometimes, she hits the ball just like a guy. Mallory was offered (a scholarship) by Towson University as a 10th-grader. Olivia is getting a lot of interest from colleges, Division I and II."
Dulaney's outstanding trio is getting strong support from four players who sat out last year: senior libero Mariah Menguito, senior middle hitter Briana Briggs and Charlida Basarath and senior defensive specialist Viktoriya Gostodinova.
"It's unusual to have four girls sit out and come back," Lyon said. "They had other things that were more important for them in the last school year. It could have been schoolwork or family. They came back this year all excited. I think they were sad they didn't play last year."
Junior outside hitters Rebecca Rawlinson and junior middle hitter Taylor Shafirovich also play big roles for the Lions.
With all that talent, explaining Dulaney's success — four regional championships and five county titles in 11 years under Carly — seems like a simple thing to the coach.
Thirteen of the 16 players on Dulaney's roster have played for a club team Lyon coaches, the Towson-based Master's Volleyball Academy.
"Everybody has played club ball at one time or another except for (Basarath and Ann Beninger)," said Lyon, who has a 171-26 record at Dulaney. "It's like any sport. The more time you are on the court, you have more opportunity to see somebody make a move or somebody do a play. So you react to it quicker. It just helps your reaction time."