Close to 40 freshmen showed up for volleyball tryouts during the opening day of fall sports practices at River Hill on Aug. 14.
Close to 40 freshmen showed up for volleyball tryouts during the opening day of fall sports practices at River Hill on Aug. 14. (Doug Kapustin/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The domination that Atholton displayed last season was historic.

The Raiders swept all 11 county opponents en route to a perfect 19-0 campaign that was capped by the program’s second 3A state championship in three years. By all measures, they were one of the best volleyball teams in Howard County history and arguably the best team overall to suit up for their respective school during the last calendar year.

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But each year brings new challenges. In high school athletics, nothing stays the same forever and every reign eventually comes to an end. Atholton will find out by the end of this fall if they are the on the same course as other Howard County volleyball dynasties or if another team will rise to the top.

“What I’ve asked of the returners is that they remain humble about your previous accomplishments,” Raiders coach Larry Schofield said, “but I want you hungry to do it again. That’s the big thing: humble and hungry, and that’s what I preach to them every day.”

Chanelle Smith, a senior for the defending 3A state champion Atholton volleyball team, discusses the team's 2019 goals and more.

Schofield is aware of what’s at stake. He knows no county team has repeated as state champions since Centennial in 2005-06. This season, Atholton will need to find ways to win without their top two players from a year ago in Lisa Zoch, the two-time defending Player of the Year who is beginning her freshman year at Bucknell, and two-time first-team All-County libero Elisa Park, who is now at San Diego State University.

Filling the holes left behind by those two players alone will be a near impossible task, but Schofield believes the Raiders have the pieces to form a new-looking squad that will be more than good enough to compete for another state title.

It’s unlikely they will be as dominant as as they were in 2018, but they proved during their state-title run in 2016 that it’s the end result that matters most. And based on the goals set by the players that will form the 2019 team, Schofield has liked what he’s seen so far.

“Every day in practice we talk about what we can do to get better. ... Is being undefeated important? No, it’s nice. Is winning counties important? No, it’s nice. But you’ve got to win regionals to get to states,” said Schofield, who also won a state title coaching Centennial in 2008. “States was their first goal, but they put as their second goal to play consistently. That’s a good second goal. Play consistently and we can achieve those goals.”

The cupboard is still far from bare at Atholton. Chanelle Smith, the most intimidating and game-changing middle in the league and a first-team All-County selection last year, is back for her senior season before she heads to play at Georgetown University. She will pair with Jessica Humphries in the middle. Kelsey Miller, a junior transfer from Mount de Sales, will fill a much-needed role at setter, and junior Ryan Rorls will be the Raiders’ go-to outside hitter as a third-year starter and a second-team All-County selection in 2018.

Atholton wasn’t the only Howard County team that competed in a state final a year ago. Glenelg fell short in the 2A championship game after a 17-win season and has its sights set on winning a state championship for the first time since 2005.

Highlights of Atholton volleyball's 3A state championship-victory over Bel Air at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Tuesday, November 20, 2018.

The Gladiators will be in the mix thanks to All-County returners Maddie Myers, who registered 188 kills in 2018 is committed to Palm Beach Atlantic University for indoor and beach volleyball, at outside hitter and Alyssa Kelly at libero, who may be two of the best defensive players in the league. Combined with experienced junior middle blocker Gracen Alsheimer, who stands 6-foot-2, Haley Rumsey and Katie Laport, Glenelg should have the talent to close the gap with Atholton.

There are still some question marks, though. Finding a replacement for 2018 graduate and All-County setter Maddie Southern will be the biggest key, according to coach Jason Monjes.

“I still feel we can make that run again like last year. It’s about whether Lydia (Stricker) and Anna (Hintz) can handle running our offense and being able to set around what we have already,” he said. “I feel our passing is going to be even better because Sydney Yoon, I feel she could be a great player. I feel we will still be pretty solid in the back row.

“I think these girls are even more hungry because a lot of them still felt that disappointment of, you know what, Williamsport beat us but we never felt we gave them our full effort.”

A consensus among the league coaches is that Reservoir is the dark horse to claim county supremacy under head coach Carole Ferrante. Ferrante is one of three head coaches in the league to have won a state championship, as she led a dominant Gators squad to the 3A state championship in 2007 before stepping down after the 2012 season.

Junior middle blocker Kayla Browne is on the radar as a potential Player of the Year candidate a year after posting 154 kills, 30 blocks and 32 aces, and senior setter Tatiana Hamilton is garnering college interest after tallying 212 assists and 48 aces in 2018.

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The Gators have the physical tools to compete with Atholton in 3A but will need contributions from their younger players to make it happen.

“They have so much potential with all those young kids. They’ve always been physically bigger but I feel on a talent scale, they may have the most potential in making the most noise in the county, especially in 3A,” Monjes said of Reservoir. “A lot of their freshmen have experience, and even their sophomores and juniors, with Kayla Browne leading the way there, so they have enough pieces. But they may be a year away.”

Teams like Centennial, River Hill, Howard, Mt. Hebron and up-and-coming Marriotts Ridge have a chance to crack the top-tier as well.

The Eagles are younger than previous years but have All-County talent in senior outside hitter Sarah Allen, who will replace the swings taken by last year’s kill leader Jackie Sterenberg. Seniors Kayla Kellner and Gabe DiPasquale will be key in helping a bevy of freshmen and sophomores develop into varsity pieces.

The Hawks were up and down in 2018 but took Glenelg to five sets in the 2A South region semifinal. Another deep playoff run wouldn’t be out of the question this year, either. They will rely on the leadership of several seniors and one of the league’s best underclassmen in sophomore Shannon Hill, who tallied 151 kills last year.

Although the Lions don’t return an All-County performer for the first time in recent memory, they do have a large talent pool, pedigree and some experience. Seniors middle blocker Emma Marthins (29 blocks) and outside hitter Marisa Moore (108 kills) and junior setter Jordan Redmiles (31 aces) return to give them strength in the middle and outside.

The Vikings graduated several tall, talented players but return key pieces and key positions. Senior setter Sam Giles (409 assists, 107 digs) was third in assists in the county last season and joins junior outside hitter Morgan Amos (130 kills, 135 digs) as a returning three-year starter.

Mustangs coach Jamie Bullock knows her team isn’t young anymore; it’s time to compete with the upper echelon of the league. They return All-County junior setter Brenna O’Reilly and her 276 assists from last year, as well as experienced senior middle blocker Rheign Davis (35 blocks) and junior outside hitter Julia Mamo (92 kills, 181 digs).

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Bullock also expects a trio of freshmen — Leah Liu, Rhisen Davis and Reyna Petterman — to see a good amount of playing time.

New Coaches

Howard, Mt. Hebron, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake and Reservoir have new head coaches this fall.

Allison Ose takes over for longtime Howard coach Grant Scott but isn’t new to the program, as she was the Lions’ JV coach for the last six years.

“I expect to bring new energy into the program,” Ose said. “I learned a lot from coach Scott and I am excited to carry on the program and bring in some new ideas to continue to grow and develop our athletes.

Tina Catanach spent the last two years as the Vikings’ varsity assistant coach and replaces Anna Romero. Catanach won four state championships as a high school player in Florida and played collegiately at Loyola Maryland, and her father, Chris Catanach, has been the head coach at the University of Tampa for 35 years.

Kelly Vieira is new to the head coaching position but not to Wilde Lake. Vieira, who takes over for Nick Sharp, has been an assistant for the last three years, and as a player she won a state championship at Liberty in 2009. She went on to play at Salisbury University and spent two seasons as their graduate assistant coach.

Alison Mariano takes over for Kristin Anderson-Little as coach of the Scorpions, and Ferrante, who spent last season as the JV coach, replaces Amy Harvey to lead the Gators’ varsity team.

New Playoff Format

The MPSSAA shook up its playoff formatting for all sports starting this fall and volleyball is no exception. Each region is still separated into two sections, but under the new format the winner of each section — now called “Region I” and “Region II” — advances to the state quarterfinals, which will be re-seeded 1-8 based on regular season win percentage.

The old format pitted section champions from the same region against one another in a region championship to advance to the state semifinal round. The potential is now there for two teams in the county to play in a state final.

“I like the idea,” Centennial coach Michael Bossom said. “It creates — or should — a more competitive state tournament instead of the best two teams meeting in the region finals.”

River Hill coach Lynn Paynter called the changes “a long time coming.”

“This change will allow Howard County teams to compete against each other outside the region and hopefully allow more of our teams to shine in the state playoffs,” she added.

The regional alignments have also changed and are as follows: Centennial, Marriotts Ridge and Mt. Hebron join Manchester Valley and Westminster in Class 3A East, Region I; Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach, Reservoir, River Hill and Wilde Lake make up Class 3A East, Region II; Glenelg and Oakland Mills are with Century, Francis Scott Key, Liberty, South Carroll and Winters Mill in Class 2A West, Region I; and Howard is in 4A East, Region I with Arundel, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County and Old Mill.

Here’s a closer look at what to expect from each of the local 14 programs:

*Indicates 2018 First-Team All-County; ^Indicates 2018 Second-Team All-County

Atholton

2018 record: 11-0 county, 19-0 overall; Howard County champions, 3A state champions

Coach: Larry Schofield

Returning starters: 5

Top players: Seniors Jessica Humphries (MB) and Chanelle Smith* (MB); juniors Ingrid Chang (DS/L), Kelsey Miller (S) and Ryan Rorls^ (OH).

Coach’s corner: “We lost six key players from last year’s championship team. However, we still return five players who were a big part of that run of success. With the addition of the Mount de Sales varsity setter, we have filled a key position. Ryan and Chanelle are two of the best at their position. We have three defensive stalwarts who will frustrate the competition. Our first five matches are against five of the top teams in the state. Those matches, combined with the Westminster Tournament, will tell us how good we are and where we need to improve. Our goal, as always, is to return to the state championship match and win. We won’t dominate like last year, but we will be competitive.” — coach Larry Schofield.

Centennial

2018 record: 8-3, 9-7

Coach: Michael Bossom

Returning starters: 3

Top players: Seniors Sarah Allen (OH), Gaby DiPasquale (L) and Kayla Kellner (RS); sophomore Alicia Service (S).

Coach’s corner: “The team will be young and will depend on several young players. Throughout the season we will be looking for them to improve and become a stronger and better volleyball player and team.” — coach Michael Bossom.

Glenelg

2018 record: 10-1, 17-2; 2A state finalists

Coach: Jason Monjes

Returning starters: 3

Top players: Seniors Katie Laport (MB), Maddie Myers* (OH) and Haley Rumsey (OH); juniors Gracen Alsheimer (MB) and Alyssa Kelly^ (L).

Coach’s corner: “After losing just two matches last year to state champions Atholton in the regular season and Williamsport in the 2A finals, Glenelg is poised to make another state run in 2A and vie for one of the top spots in the county. With many of the key pieces coming back and even hungrier after being 2A finalists, Glenelg will arguably be one of the best serving, passing and defensive teams in the area. Attention to detail will be the key for them this year, as they continue to move forward with Lydia Stricker and Anna Hintz filling the setting void vacated by first-team All-County setter Maddie Southern. Glenelg arguably has the two best defensive players in outside hitter Maddie Myers and libero Alyssa Kelly (both All-County players in 2018) while adding Sydney Yoon to the back row to replace graduating senior Oliva Haley. Glenelg will be physically bigger in the middle with returning starter Gracen Alsheimer and Katie Laport, averaging over 6-foot-1. Haley Rumsey joins Myers to the outside hitting corps. Can they play at a high consistent level that will lead to the ultimate prize?” — coach Jason Monjes.

Hammond

2018 record: 1-10, 5-12

Coach: Anne Corey

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Returning starters: 4

Top players: Seniors Kayla Hendershot (MB), Jordan Kreh (OH/OPP) and DaNasia McRae (MB/OPP); junior Abbie Weirich (L); freshman Safi Hampton (OH/OPP).

Coach’s corner: “The Lady Bears of Hammond are looking forward to the 2019 season! After our most competitive tryout yet, we once again have all class years represented on our roster. Our exciting mix of new and returning players includes JV call-ups, an experienced freshman and a transfer athlete. The team has been working tirelessly in the preseason to refine basic skills, jell as a cohesive unit and prepare all aspects of the game for Howard County’s strong competition. Hammond volleyball plans to focus this season on fighting hard for each point, keeping the lead when we earn one and relentlessly pursuing more victories within the county. The Lady Bears are energized and ready for a competitive season!” — coach Anne Corey.

Howard

2018 record: 7-4, 10-6

Coach: Allison Ose

Returning starters: 3

Top players: Seniors Emma Marthins (MB) and Marisa Moore (OH); junior Jordan Redmiles (S).

Coach’s corner: “This year we are a young and hardworking team. We are focusing on each step of the season and planning to grow and work together. We are going to continue to develop the same systems we had in place under coach Grant Scott and will work to be a cohesive unit. We will use our expertise in the middle and outside to continue to grow our younger players and to be a powerful offensive team.” — coach Allison Ose.

Long Reach

2018 record: 0-11, 1-14

Coach: Erik Groch

Returning starters: 4

Top players: Seniors Brianna Chinn (MB), Shyla Harvin (OH) and Rayna Livingston (OH).

Coach’s corner: “Long Reach expects to improve over last season. The team struggled to find a setter last year as they started four different setters over the course of the season. Through the rotation of setters, returning senior setter Hadiya Letren was able to gain valuable varsity experience. While Long Reach graduated two players — Angelina Casserly and Hailey Ramberg — who started the past three years for the Lightning, up-and-coming talent in Indyia Haskett and Shakira Knight are looking to fill the void. Long Reach will also experiment to improve their passing by moving last year’s libero, Shyla Harvin, to outside hitter while moving sophomore Mia Rubio, who started the Lightning’s playoff game last year as a freshman, to libero.” — coach Erik Groch.

Marriotts Ridge

2018 record: 5-6, 8-7

Coach: Jamie Bullock

Returning starters: 6

Top players: Senior Rheign Davis (MB); juniors Julia Mamo (OH) and Brenna O’Reilly^ (S).

Coach’s corner: “Our focus this year will be discipline, dedication and determination. From the first practice the girls said this is what makes a great team and we are all behind what these three words will bring to the program. We are no longer just a young team. With the majority of the team being upperclassmen, we need to use what we have learned from previous season and apply it to the current one. With our focus of discipline, dedication and determination, we hope to make a bigger impact in the county.” — coach Jamie Bullock.

Mt. Hebron

2018 record: 8-3, 8-7

Coach: Tina Catanach

Returning starters: 4

Top players: Senior Sam Giles^ (S); juniors Morgan Amos (OH) and Lara Szabo-Banicz (L).

Coach’s corner: “This year’s Mt. Hebron team is a group of motivated, driven and competitive girls. We graduated a great deal of height with the last senior class but have multiple talented rising senior defensive players who are ready to lead. We are excited for some our younger players to step up and make an impact on the court. We expect to see this group come out and compete as we develop a more defensive mindset.” — coach Tina Catanach.

Oakland Mills

2018 record: 3-8, 6-10

Coach: Alison Mariano

Returning starters: 2

Top players: Senior Tyasia McDuffie (L); sophomore Zhenzhu Nelson* (OH).

Coach’s corner: “The team is composed of half returning players and the other half are from our JV team last year. So getting everyone on the same page and working together will be our first mission. At the end of the season, we hope to win at least one playoff game. Last year we met this goal, and as far as we can tell there isn’t a written record of that ever happening in the history of Oakland Mills volleyball before.” — coach Alison Mariano.

Reservoir

2018 record: 5-6, 9-7

Coach: Carole Ferrante

Returning starters: 5

Top players: Senior Tatiana Hamilton (S); juniors Maddie Barrett (OH) and Kayla Browne^ (MB).

Coach’s corner: “What I’m expecting from this year’s team is growth from the year before. I feel like we have a lot of girls who have been working really hard to prepare in the offseason, a lot of girls who have been playing club and have been doing a lot of offseason training, so I want us to be competitive. I think that’s our goal right now, to just be competitive and hopefully end up with a good result.” — coach Carole Ferrante.

River Hill

2018 record: 6-5, 11-6

Coach: Lynn Paynter

Returning starters: 4

Top players: Seniors Ellie Cirovski (L), Tara Lui (S) and Shannon McCarthy (MB); sophomores Shreenitha Chikyala (MB) and Shannon Hill (OH).

Coach’s corner: “River Hill is young, yet talented and enthusiastic! It’s only been a week, but it is obvious that the group has the main ingredients to become a strong Howard County team. The girls compliment each other’s individual skills; they have shown hustle, already demonstrating chemistry, and great overall attitudes. Under the leadership of our four seniors — Ellie Cirovski, Jasmine Frey, Tara Lui and Shannon McCarthy — we are looking forward to working together this season to build a competitive, cohesive team and building on skills to compete against all the other formidable teams in Howard County.” — coach Lynn Paynter.

Wilde Lake

2018 record: 3-8, 7-9

Coach: Kelly Vieira

Returning starters: 4

Top players: Seniors Jaleah Murray (OH) and Aenilah Watkins (OH); junior Valeria Malorodova (L).

Coach’s corner: “With our 2019 volleyball team consisting of four returning key players, we are looking to have a successful season. Currently, we have powerful hitters who can put the ball away and a solid defense that can make big plays to keep us in the game. The tone for the season has been set at a high level due to senior captains Jaleah Murray and Aenilah Watkins who excel at motivating the team during practices and helping keep everyone focused on our goals. We’ve had an outstanding team dynamic thus far, which is very intense, and the girls hold one another accountable during drills so we are constantly pushing ourselves to get one percent better every day. Although our team is goofy, energetic, playful and built with so many different personalities, we all have the same goal of bettering our skills daily and fighting through adversity this season together.” — coach Kelly Vieira.

Chapelgate

2018 record: 5-5 IAAM B, 7-7

Coach: Stephanie Smith

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Returning starters: 2

Top players: Seniors Jessica Lucas^ (OH) and Joi Thornton (MB).

Coach’s corner: “We have a fairly new team this year but these young ladies are very hard working and dedicated! I am excited to watch them grow and develop as the season progresses.” — coach Stephanie Smith.

Glenelg Country

2018 record: 6-2 IAAM C, 7-9

Coach: Dennis Seibel

Returning starters: 3

Top players: Seniors Kelly Rushe (L) and Sydni Williams (OH); sophomores Amber Garcia (S) and Ellie Oyebode (OH).

Coach’s corner: “This season’s success will depend on the leadership and all-around court play of seniors Sydni Williams and Kelly Rushe and the integration of sophomore Amber Garcia as the team’s primary setter. Sophomores Ellie Oyebode, Trinity Skidmore and Zoe Wright will continue to develop over the course of the season and be the future leaders of the program. We have added a coach to our program to help with player skill development, Meghan Kelley (Centennial ’15, St. Mary’s College ’19) who will assist both the JV and varsity teams.” — coach Dennis Seibel.

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