Co-county champion Westminster was the last Carroll team standing in 2018, with the Owls getting back to the Class 3A state tournament before falling short in the semifinals.
Expect Westminster to be primed for a similar run, with the three-time reigning Times Player of the Year gearing up for her senior season. But the rest of Carroll figures to be just as competitive. Winters Mill shared the county crown with its rival last fall before advancing to a regional final, and four teams finished the year with winning records.
Four Carroll squads feature new coaches in 2019, but three players from last year’s all-county first team have returned. With that, here are three things to watch this fall:
Coaches making their varsity debuts
There will be four new faces sitting on benches around the county this season. Vicki Williams is Liberty’s new coach, Victoria Howell is at Manchester Valley, Brianna Gordon at South Carroll, and Evan Frock at Westminster.
Williams replaces Michael Rainbow, who led the Lions for six seasons (he came back two years ago after a break). Williams has been with the program for four years.
Gordon takes over for Stacy Trivett, who spent the last two seasons at SC. Gordon is also a coach with the Carroll Viper Volleyball Club.
Frock spent the last two seasons as an assistant for Westminster’s Ed Benish, and he filled the varsity void after Benish stepped down following the 2018 season. Benish went 66-37 and won three regional titles as Owls coach.
Howell and Teri Leatherwood are swapping spots for the 2019 season. Leatherwood moved over to junior varsity after spending seven seasons as MV’s varsity coach (the Mavericks won a county title in 2016). Howell comes over from the JV squad, and was also one of Leatherwood’s assistants for two years.
“A lot of the girls are familiar for me,” Howell said. “So it’s kind of cool to have seen them now grow up a little bit more. There are some siblings of people that I played with in school that I’m actually coaching now, that I didn’t realize at the time.”
Howell played her high school volleyball at North Carroll, and played in college at University of Mary Washington. The 2013 Panthers graduate said volleyball has grown a lot in Carroll since she graduated, with an emphasis on year-round participation at the club and travel level.
“I think the competition all-around ... has definitely increased,” Howell said. “It was not nearly the phenomenon that it is now, I suppose.”
Returning talent rising to the top
Westminster senior Jilienne Widener is back for one more high school season, and the Brown University commit is closing in on 1,000 career kills. Widener has 981 through her three years with the Owls, and she led them to the 3A semifinals last season before Atholton, the eventual state champ, knocked them out in four sets.
In 2017, Widener helped Westminster reach the 3A state final (Northern-Calvert won the title in three sets).
Widener averaged 5.8 kills and 2.4 digs per set last year. Westminster teammate and fellow senior Kasey Thomas also returns from the all-county first team. Thomas led the Owls with 2.8 digs per set from the libero position.
Century senior hitter Caroline Mastria is the other returning first-team all-county pick from 2018. Mastria was third in the county with 200 kills, and second with 4 kills per set.
A potential shift in county power
Westminster and Winters Mill shared the Carroll County Athletic League crown in 2018, but the city rivals are dealing with heavy loss because of graduations. The Owls lost five key contributors; the Falcons lost seven (including three all-county first-teamers).
Those teams expect to contend again in 2019, but Century could be poised to challenge for its first county title since 2011.
The Knights didn’t lose any standouts from last year’s 10-6 (7-5 CCAL) squad, according to coach Bryan Trumbo. Mastria should get help on the front row from junior Maria Acaron (115 kills in 2018) and senior Caroline Kennell, who played setter last season, among others.