If trying to defend a state championship isn't enough of a burden, Severna Park High School's volleyball team also must deal with a lofty preseason ranking.
Chosen as the 19th-best team in the nation by Volleyball Monthly, the Falcons will need three seniors to contribute mightily if they are to win a third consecutive 4A title, and live up to high expectations.
Hitters Jen Conner and Julie Kasprzak -- both All-County selections last fall -- and setter Susan Wren will bolster Severna Park's lineup. And the talented trio should be sharp when practice begins next month.
All three girls took part in last week's United States Volleyball Association Junior Olympics in Kansas City, Mo. Conner and Kasprzak represented the Capital Volleyball Club, and Wren played for the Columbia Volleyball Club.
Both 18-under squads fared better than expected.
Seeded 54th out of 64 teams, Capital wound up in 37th place -- the second-highest finish for an East Coast competitor. Pittsburgh advanced further because of an opponent's forfeit.
Columbia, seeded 61st, was 49th.
The tournament concluded a season that began in December and stretched into late June.
"By playing a lot, they get more experience on the court and they get better faster," said Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar.
Conner (5-foot-9) may have benefited most from the extra work. Already one of the county's premier middle hitters, Conner saw extensive time at the outside position, where she will play this fall.
Capital coach Shirley Diggs said, "Her strongest place is outside hitter, but we had to use her in the middle sometimes because we had nobody else, and she has enough skill to be moved around like that.
"When we got to the [Junior Olympics], we moved her to outside. At first, it wasn't on, but then she became stronger. She was hitting well against them, and the blocks out there are so much bigger.
"Julie was an outside hitter again, which was her position all year. They both were very vital parts of the team."
Diggs had to piece together four members of her Red Team and four from her Blue Team to comprise the squad that went to Kansas City.
"We did pretty good, considering the circumstances," Conner said. "We had a couple weeks to practice together, but it's a big adjustment."
Kasprzak said, "Getting used to another setter was the most difficult thing. But otherwise, you see all the girls in the club season and we get along."
Wren will be Severna Park's No. 1 setter this year, replacing All-County selection Jaime Pirotte. She spent part of last summer with Columbia, which is coached by former setter Ellen Dempsey of the University of Maryland.