Severna Park needs to get digging


Susan Wren and Julie Kasprzak have settled at West Virginia Wesleyan. Jen Conner has moved on to American University.

Three first-team All-Metro volleyball players are gone. The three key reasons Severna Park won its third consecutive Class 4A state championship have accepted college scholarships and taken their talents to the next level.

And it gets worse. The other three starters also graduated.

So, where does this leave the Falcons?

For once, no longer looking like the area's premier team.

This isn't the first time coach Tim Dunbar has been forced to replace seemingly irreplaceable components of his program. But isn't accustomed to practically starting over from scratch.

In 1993, he had just two starters back, and five players were moved to new positions. Among the departed were two first-team All-Metro selections and one second-teamer.

That's nothing compared with this year's losses. Kasprzak (226 kills) and Conner (202) were outside hitters who could take over a match by themselves. Wren (527 assists), the county and metro Player of the Year, was a setter blessed with an extraordinary touch at the net. And unlike last season, there isn't much varsity playing experience to fall back on and ease the transition.

"There will be a lot of changes," said Dunbar, who also lost second-team All-County hitter Holly McKlveen to graduation. "At least two JV kids will start or at least see significant playing time. This team is good, but the last three have been great. Last year's team was superb, maybe the best I ever had. There's an awful lot of work to do."

That's an odd predicament for a program that has won 53 straight best-of-five matches.

Another county squad that made the state playoffs, South River (2A), also has some big shoes to fill. First-team All-County hitter Pam Patterson (231 kills) is at Towson State. Also gone is second-team setter Stacey Thomas.

The Seahawks, who were eliminated by North Hagerstown in the state semifinals, also lost their coach. Melissa Diehlmann told her players after their last match that she was leaving the team, later changed her mind, then accepted a coaching position at Catonsville Community College. Assistant Maureen Carter has taken over for Diehlmann and will try to keep the program moving forward.

At Archbishop Spalding, coach Linda Taylor must get along without hitter/setter Carrie Parsons, the Catholic League Player of the Year. She helped the Cavaliers to nine victories and a second consecutive Catholic League Tournament title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

"Carrie is irreplaceable," said Taylor, who will miss the early portion of the season after giving birth to her first child.

Northeast also qualified for the postseason last year, but it, too, must survive without its best player. Outside hitter Casey Czako led the Eagles to the 2A East Region final and made first-team All-County with 245 kills, 41 blocks and 45 aces.

The Eagles also will have a new look on the bench, where Otis Long replaces Dan Collins. Long has been a referee for 35 years, "so I'm no stranger to volleyball," he said.

Another coaching change took place at Broadneck, where Glenn Brainer has been replaced by assistant Tom Cole. Last year, the Bruins lost to Mount Hebron, 3-1, in the 3A East Region semifinals, then lost second-team All-County hitter Julie Barr and second-team setter Krissi St. Clair to graduation.

Southern and Old Mill also have new coaches.

In Harwood, Vita VanLear (formerly Covert) has taken over for Michael Schwob, who returned to the Naval Academy to run the men's club team. VanLear coached the Bulldogs before Schwob's arrival last year.

At Old Mill, former assistant Jan Arnold has inherited the team from Patti DeMarco. A threat to crack the state tournament in past years, the Patriots took a major tumble last season because of inexperience. And Arnold -- who was the head coach at Arundel for nine years before joining Old Mill's program -- won't have second-team All-County setter/hitter Andrea Melocik.

North County had the same problems with youth, though the Knights didn't have as far to fall as Old Mill.

The program that mostly has remained intact is Glen Burnie, which again should give Severna Park its strongest challenge in the 4A League. The Gophers lost to the Falcons, 3-0, in last year's East Region semifinals, but didn't lose much else.

Among the other county schools fielding teams, Chesapeake showed the most improvement last season, going 7-7 and throwing a scare into many squads. The Cougars look ready to take the next step, but there will be a crowd to meet them.

This season, everyone is a viable playoff contender. Under a new state rule, any team registering by Oct. 1 can enter the region tournament, which is good news for schools such as Annapolis, Southern and Meade, which haven't accumulated many victories recent years.

But the decision to determine seedings through a random drawing, rather than rewarding the teams with the best records, has left some coaches perplexed.

"It's ludicrous," Dunbar said. "The regular season becomes meaningless."

"If you go into the regionals," Glen Burnie coach Juanita Milani said, "and you have double-digits in the win column and draw somebody 0-9, I don't see the point. And it's a misrepresentation of your region if somebody 0-9 knocks off someone who's undefeated, then moves on and gets creamed. But at least it opens up who you can play [during the regular season]."

Another change is that on Nov. 1, the top two teams will play to determine a county champion, rather than settling the issue with regular-season records and head-to-head meetings.

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