For Howard coach Craig O'Connell, the goal for his team is quite attainable.
"We want to be the most intense team in the county," O'Connell said.
The Lions must achieve that high-intensity level on the court if they hope to duplicate last season's 18-7 mark (10-4 in the county) and once again challenge Mount Hebron and Hammond for the county title.
Gone from last year's Class 3A state playoff team is Howard County Player of the Year Camille Powell (10.0 ppg) and shooting guard Sharon Ford, who is now playing at Catonsville Community College.
"We lost 33 points a game with the graduation of two of our starters and the transfer of another guard to Meade," O'Connell said. "Since the start of volleyball season I've been wrestling with how to replace our No. 1 and No. 2 players. The answer is we can't. So the team, and not an individual, will need to step up their game for us to reach the playoffs again."
Stepping into Powell's point guard shoes is her younger sister Rebecca. O'Connell said the junior Lions guard has the starting job to lose and did a decent job in scrimmages. Since Howard's backcourt was depleted, top returnee Emily Moore (12.0 ppg) shifts from small forward to shooting guard.
"Emily will play three or four positions for us," said O'Connnell. "She will play a lot of minutes because she will scrap, scrape and hound you to death. She always plays with intensity."
The Lions senior leader will be joined by her fellow co-captain Mona Jackson as Howard's go-to scorers. Jackson, a junior forward, averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds per game last season.
Joining Powell, Jackson and Moore in the starting rotation will be senior guard Kim Taylor, junior forward Katie Kile and 5-foot-11 junior center Megan Boehme.
"Where we'll finish up in the race I'm not quite so sure because we have a lot of question marks to answer," O'Connell said. "Mount Hebron and Hammond should battle at the top, but the county's three through eight teams are pretty comparable."