When Broadneck moved down in classification this year, it appeared to open the door for another Class 4A county team to waltz into the playoffs.
Or did the door slam shut?
Broadneck's departure and a subsequent realignment have placed Calvert and Northern-Calvert in the same region as Annapolis, Arundel, Chesapeake, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County, Old Mill and Severna Park. And Queen Anne's -- 9-5 last season -- also is included in the mix.
Northern-Calvert has lost to Severna Park in the past two 4A state finals, and the Patriots are expected to make another strong push for the title.
"Getting into the regionals is probably going to be harder than ever," said Glen Burnie coach Juanita Milani. "You can't count anybody out."
South River also dropped in classification, going from 3A to 2A. But coach Melissa Diehlmann said, "We expect to give some bigger schools a run for their money."
# Let the race begin.
With her team coming off a one-win season, Annapolis coach Karla McMahon said, "We can only hope to improve this year."
A couple of elements seem to be working in the Panthers' favor -- more experience than last season, and greater height.
Four seniors are back -- Christina Aluzzo (5 feet 5), Katie Colegrove (5-0), Uyen Do (5-2) and Janelle Queen (5-8) -- along with sophomore returnee Ginny Dauses (5-6).
The group of newcomers is led by 5-10 senior Marni McGarry and 5-9 senior Erica Hunt.
"We have height this year that in the past we haven't had," McMahon said.
Also new to the varsity are seniors Taegan Doyle (5-6) and Patricia Nevils (5-3), juniors Dayna Lewnes (5-6) and Erin Lund (5-6) and sophomore Bridgid Duffy (5-6).
"A lot of these girls have been playing together for a couple years now," McMahon said. "I have a lot of seniors on the team this year, so I'm hoping that experience will help. We didn't graduate too many seniors last year. We had a pretty young team. This one has a lot more experience."
Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers
The euphoria of winning the Catholic League Tournament last season has given way to the realization that Archbishop Spalding lost nine players to graduation and is practically starting over.
Coach Linda Taylor is left with three returnees: senior setter/hitter Carrie Parsons (5-11), junior defender Dana Siemek (5-4) and sophomore setter/hitter Crystal Henderson (5-5).
Parsons had 156 hits and 48 kills last year. Henderson served at 82 percent efficiency.
"Losing nine players really will test this team," Taylor said. "The two things they have to work on most are communication and teamwork, but they're learning fast."
The Cavaliers have to learn to get by without first-team All-County hitter/setter Amy Langville, "one of the best athletes ever to go through Spalding," Taylor said.
"We're really going to miss her, but I expect Carrie and Crystal to step in for her offensively. I expect them to be a dominant force in the Catholic League."
A potential force arrived to the varsity in a 6-2 package. Courtney Parker, a junior hitter who gives Spalding instant height, missed most of last year because of a hip injury and ended up on the junior varsity.
Two other additions are junior defender Christine Zayas (5-5) and freshman hitter Crystal Ray (5-9).
"These girls have got to get to know each other," Taylor said. "It's like putting a bunch of new people together. There is a lot of talent coming up from the JV, though. I believe we will be competitive in the league."
Arundel didn't make the playoffs last year at 7-8, and the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to get there this season.
Coach Lee Rogers lost all but two players from last year -- seniors Jen Plummer (5-6) and Wilma Dulla (4-11). This will be Plummer's first year as a setter.
The roster contains 10 newcomers to the varsity.
"We're rather young and I don't know how we're going to be," Rogers said. "I think we'll be competitive with the enthusiasm they've displayed at practice, but how many games we'll win, I don't know."
Joining the varsity are senior Nicole Richmond (5-7), juniors Yiru Zhou (5-6), Gwen Dulla (5-5), Christine Holland (5-9) and Pauline Ciszewski (5-7), and sophomores Shawna Gooding (5-6), Jessica Palatka (5-7), Jen Mottar (5-8), Kristen Neimiller (5-6) and Lisa Vinson (5-4).
Gooding is a transfer from Old Mill, and Ciszewski arrived from Greece.
"We're rebuilding," Rogers said. "I have a good mix of sophomores and a good mixture of juniors. Hopefully, we can be competitive and see what happens."
Broadneck finally escaped Severna Park's shadow by moving to the 3A level -- and runs straight into Centennial. If ever there was a team that can't buy a break, it's the Bruins. For Broadneck to win its new region, it will have to get past the state-champion Eagles and Mount Hebron, which moved up after claiming three 2A state titles in a row.
"We go from one challenge to the next," said coach Glenn Brainer, whose team has been eliminated in the region finals by Severna Park the past three years. "But we're very confident."
No wonder. Even though the Bruins lost county Player of the Year Julie Scott (164 kills) to graduation, they aren't hurting for talent.
Senior hitter Julie Barr (5-10) should emerge as one of the county's top players after being chosen second-team All-County last year. She had more than 100 kills last season.
"Julie is going to be a force to be reckoned with," said Brainer, whose team went 13-3 last season. "Everyone will get the opportunity to see how she's developed as a volleyball player. She's done very well."
Brainer also speaks highly of 5-11 junior Katie Forthofer, who had more than 75 kills last year. "Katie is an emerging star who's going to be a dominant player," he said.
Also back from last season are 5-5 senior setters Krissy St. Clair and Lynn Forrest, 5-9 senior outside hitter Megan Mahlow, 5-9 junior setter/hitter Amanda Barchanowicz and 5-9 sophomore Taci Williams.
Newcomers to the varsity include juniors Theresa Koester (5-10), Tasha Redding (5-8) and Jeanine Boozer (5-10) and sophomore Lisa Goodue (6-0).
"This is a tenacious team," Brainer said. "They play hard. They won't miss a beat from last year. We'll be right back where we were.
"Our goal is to win the 3A-2A-1A county championship. And we'd like to get into the regions, of course. I know we'll have to win just about every match to get in.
"We're very confident. This team is still young. I hope we can
peak toward the end of the season."
Chesapeake coach Donna Zemke says her players are "real excited" about this season. And with good reason.
After going 3-12 last year, the Cougars could rate as the county's most improved team with nine returnees.
"I want us to improve on our record and give everybody a good match. Anything can happen," Zemke said.
Good things should happen to Chesapeake if senior Kim Woody (5-8) and junior Becky Adamarczyk (5-7) perform to their capabilities.
"They're our two power hitters," Zemke said.
The other returning players are seniors Stephanie Pierpoint (5-8), Kristi Torbeck (5-10) and Cindy Ogle (5-5) and juniors Jamie Parsons (5-11), Suzanne Stumpp (5-4), Jen Jovan (5-7) and Christa Goetz (6-0).
Jovan and junior Laura Henne (5-5) -- up from the junior varsity -- are the top setters.
Besides Henne, other newcomers who could make an impact are seniors Katie Davis (5-6) and Wendy Pugh (5-4) and juniors Jen Miller (5-7), Dawn Faber (5-7) and Karen King (5-10). Faber is a transfer from Virginia, and Pugh is a middle hitter who compensates for her lack of height with an impressive vertical jump.
Glen Burnie Gophers
It's hard to believe that three years ago, Glen Burnie was rolling to the 4A state championship.
The Gophers haven't made the playoffs since then, but coach Juanita Milani thinks this could be the year.
Her team was 8-5 last season, and it lost just one player to graduation -- hitter Melody MacKinnon. Seven players return, plus a couple of promising newcomers join the varsity.
"I'm looking for a little bit more consistency in their play," Milani said. "This will be their third year together."
The list of returnees begins with junior setter/hitter Heather Hutson (5-9), a second-team All-County selection last year and one of the more talented players in the metro area. Hutson had 95 kills, 47 aces and 254 assists.
"She is our team. She's excellent," Milani said.
Also back are seniors Jennifer Hagedorn (5-8) and Sabrina Whitlock (5-6), juniors Meghan Matukonis (5-7), Jennifer Stapler (5-7) and Denise Warren (5-7) and sophomore Stacey Ellenberger (5-8).
Freshman Amy Hutson leads the cast of newcomers, and Milani said, "She probably has as much playing experience as anyone." She joins senior Andrea Clark (5-11), juniors Tammie Carson (5-11) and Heather Zeman (5-6) and sophomore Amanda Farlow (5-9).
"I always felt that this team had a lot to look up to," Milani said. "I lost everybody after we won states, and the next year we got these kids. They have the reputation of a state championship. I feel like they've been playing under pressure for two years.
"I've been telling them, 'You've got to find your own thing. You don't have to win states to make a name for yourselves. You've got to reach your own level.' And 8-5 is nothing to be ashamed of, but I know they'd like to do more, and I'd like to see them do more."
Meade didn't win many matches last year, but coach Vickie Hedgebeth was more concerned with what she perceived as the team's poor attitude.
Hedgebeth might not be able to increase the victory total this season, but she intends to stop any disruptive behavior before it begins. "We had a lot of problems getting along last year," she said. "We're working on team unity."
The leadership will have to come from the four returning players -- senior hitter/setter Connie Fink (5-8), senior setter Renee Santiago (5-5), junior setter Kathy Calley (5-5) and junior hitter Cory Jefferson (5-10).
The Mustangs will have 10 newcomers on the varsity. "Some of them played on the junior varsity, and a couple transferred from other schools," Hedgebeth said.
"I think we have the potential to do better. We probably will have a lot of depth. It's just a matter of coming together as a team."
North County Knights
Fate played a cruel trick on North County. The Knights enjoyed their best season by going 6-8 last fall, but eight players graduated, and only three are back.
Is this another example of taking one step up and two steps back? Coach Amy Williams hopes not.
"We're remodeling again," she said.
The changes include junior Anne Ketterle (5-3) and sophomore Jessica Gibson (5-6), who will be the team's primary setters. They join senior Joy Farmer (5-11) and juniors Shelley Gaither (5-7), Amy Ray (5-9), Jennifer Taylor (5-9) and Jackie Weckesser (5-8).
"I'm happy with the people coming up from the JV," Williams said. "We're taller than we've ever been."
The top returning player is 5-6 senior hitter Leanne Jones. "She's a very smart player. Her presence on the court is something to watch," Williams said.
Heidi Newcomer, a 5-10 senior hitter, and 5-7 junior hitter Rhonda Hegazi also return from last season.
If Northeast coach Dan Collins thought that barely missing the playoffs last season was bad, he was in for a worse feeling when practices began last month.
The Eagles return just two players -- 5-10 senior hitter Casey Czako and junior setter Jamie Johnson. The rest of the cast is new, and Collins still hasn't figured out who will remain on the varsity.
He has plenty of time to make his decision, however. Northeast doesn't open the season until Sept. 23 at Sparrows Point. When asked about his outlook for the season, Collins said, "Not good."
"I don't expect to beat Severna Park, but I'd like to give everybody else a run for their money," he said.
It doesn't help matters that Collins had his worst turnout in 14 years. He hopes to have 20 players by the end of the week, which would be an improvement over the 14 that originally showed up.
Old Mill Patriots
Coach Patti DeMarco knew that if Old Mill was going to challenge for the 4A state championship, the Patriots needed to do it last season.
Old Mill was eliminated by Broadneck in the region playoffs, and now finds itself stripped of most of its talent and experience. Graduation took away first-team All-County hitter Anne Chicorelli and second-team selections Allison Wentworth, Debbie Dawson
and Christine Baer.
Only three players return to the varsity -- seniors Andrea Melocik (5-8), Jennifer Welsh (5-8) and Keri Strong (5-9). Melocik, an outside hitter, is the only one who saw much playing time last year.
"I had so many seniors, my underclassmen didn't get much of a chance to play last year," DeMarco said. "It's a rebuilding year."
DeMarco will attempt to build a winner from a group that includes seniors Mindy Caplan (5-6) and Kathy Yost (5-5), juniors Mary Chicorelli (5-6), Dana Dawson (6-0), Julie Drapalski (5-9), Marisa Greshko (5-8), Nicole Kelly (5-9) and Jamie Mikeska (5-10) and sophomores Cathy Porter (5-7) and Holly Shaffer (5-11).
Yost is the leading candidate to replace Baer as the team's No. 1 setter. DeMarco also is taking a long look at Porter in that role.
"Our goal is to get into the playoffs, maybe as the fourth seed," DeMarco said. "There's a lot of potential here. But there's a lot of
work to do."
Severna Park Falcons
Two first-team All-Metro players have graduated. So has a second-team selection. So why is Severna Park still considered the overwhelming favorite in the county?
Here are two good reasons: senior hitters Julie Kasprzak (5-9) and Jen Conner (5-9), both first-team All-County choices last season. Kazprzak didn't begin the year as a starter, but she wound up with a team-high 158 kills and a third-best total of 50 aces. Conner was hurt for part of the year, but still amassed 100 kills and 28 aces.
The team will have a different look this year, and not just because Catherine Kirk, Jaime Pirotte and Kate Marks are gone. Dunbar is shuffling players to new positions, hoping that the result will be a third-straight Class 4A state championship.
"We lost all our starters except Conner and Kasprzak, so we have four new kids in the lineup and five who are playing new positions, basically," he said. "Julie is the only one in the same position. There are a lot of questions about their familiarity with each other and their experience. Most of these girls have been on the varsity bench the past year or two. And depth is a question because we have five JV kids coming up."
And still, this team appears to be loaded. The returnees include senior setter Susan Wren (5-8), who will replace Pirotte, and seniors Nikki Godfrey (5-8), Holly McKlveen (5-7) and Jennifer Mitchell (6-0). Junior Sherri Patton (5-7) also is back. Five newcomers are juniors Nicole Merrill (5-10), Melissa Snyder (5-3) and Cara Voegtlin (5-5), and sophomores Julie Allen (5-10) and Lauren Butler (5-8).
"You could look at the talent we lost and say, 'Gee, we can't possibly be that good.' But we have an awful lot of talent back," said Dunbar, whose team survived a five-game marathon against Northern-Calvert in the state finals. "We had 14 good players last year, which was a luxury. In the last game of the state final, it went so long that I ended up going 11 deep on the bench.
"I'll have to take it step by step with fundamentals. We'll keep it a whole lot simplier this year. But we could be just as effective. They've got great attitudes and hustle. My kids know they can't just walk on the court and beat teams on talent alone. They're going to really have to work."
In the past two years, Michael Schwob coached the Naval Academy's volleyball team into the Top 20 national rankings, including the No. 13 position last season.
Can he work the same magic this fall at Southern, which didn't win a match last year?
"It'll be challenging," said Schwob, a teacher at Central Elementary School who coached at Navy for five years, before the program was dropped because of budget constraints. "The girls haven't had a lot of playing experience, so it's back to the drawing board. But they're coming along."
Most of the Bulldogs are back from last season, including 5-7 junior setter Carrie Reid, "our most consistant player," Schwob said.
"Reid's a good athlete and a natural leader on the floor."
She'll try to get the ball to players such as 5-10 seniors Anita Nicholson and Megan Ebersole and 5-10 juniors Krista Borden and Catherine Bach.
Other options include seniors Laura Kessler (5-6) and Sandy Tickel (5-8) and juniors Janet Galla (5-8), Wendy Staples (5-7) and Dawn Ward (5-7).
"Our juniors are our strength. There's a lot of potential there," Schwob said.
"I think we're definitely in a building phase because I'm new to the program and the girls are running a different offense than what they were exposed to before. Instead of a 4-2, they'll be running a 6-2 and they have to get used to having three hitters at all times.
"The girls are making a commitment to the program," Schwob said. "They have the capability of building a program here. They're all becoming more educated in the game."
South River Seahawks
South River graduated four seniors, including second-team All-County setter Gretchen Sullivan. Luckily for coach Melissa Diehlmann, 6-foot Pam Patterson wasn't one of the graduates.
Patterson, a senior outside hitter, should continue to dominate opponents as she did last year in compiling 388 successful attacks and 200 kills. She also had 28 blocks, 22 digs and 15 aces and served at 91 percent efficiency.
"Pam was our big gun last year," said Diehlmann, who was named Anne Arundel County's Coach of the Year after leading the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a second consecutive appearance in the region playoffs. "She's even hitting harder now than last year. She's really putting the ball down. I wouldn't want to be in her way.
"It's hard to believe that a couple years ago volleyball wasn't even a thought to her."
Diehlmann is quick to add that the Seahawks aren't relying solely on Patterson. Four other players return -- senior setter/hitter Stacey Thomas (5-9), senior hitter Lindsay Pell (5-10), senior setter Wendy Neill (5-3) and sophomore hitter Kim Thomas (6-1).
Stacey Thomas will try to replace Sullivan. "She has great hands, and she's really improved after attending a setter's camp over the summer," Diehlmann said.
Diehlmann said that Kim Thomas has "improved like you wouldn't believe."
Three players are up from the junior varsity -- junior hitter Jennifer Smith (5-8), sophomore hitter Mary Beth Duvall (5-8) and sophomore Maura Smith (5-5) -- a "utility player with a lot of spunk," Diehlmann said.
Senior Robin Case (5-3) also has joined the team.
"There's a lot of talent here, and a lot of potential for us to get better as the season progresses," Diehlmann said. "Hopefully, we can get to the regionals and get beyond the first round, and even further."