1 Severna Park -- There is just too much talent on this team for the Falcons to have a second straight "off-season." After winning three straight state 4A championships (1991-92-93), Severna Park ran into eventual state 4A champion Northern of Calvert County last season in the East Region finals and lost in three games. The Falcons still finished 20-4 and fourth in the final Baltimore Sun poll. Senior hitters Julie Allen (277 kills last year) and Lauren Butler, who provided most of the power last season, return to lead the team. Jennifer Holmes (a 6-2 senior) is expected to do a lot of damage at outside hitter.
2 Centennial -- See capsule.
3 Loch Raven -- Don't shed too many tears for Loch Raven. Sure, five starters are gone from a 19-0 team that won the 2A state championship and a third straight Baltimore County title. But there are still enough strong players to make this team a force every time it steps on the court. The top returnees are senior hitters Tiggy Stevens and Sun Kang and senior defender Jebry Simon.
4 Mount Hebron -- See capsule.
5 Catonsville -- This is supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Comets but coach Debbie Clem is known for getting the most out of her talent. The power will come from Shannon Rexrode, a 5-11 senior hitter, and Katie Hipley, a 5-10 sophomore hitter. Look for this team to start slowly but come on down the stretch and have a good chance to match last season's 11-3 record.
6 Glen Burnie -- The Gophers finished No. 3 in the final poll last year and look as if they have a good chance to be nearly as strong as last season under coach Juanita Milani who enters her 18th year. Milani considers junior Amy Hutson one of the best hitters in the state, and she will be joined by other outstanding senior hitters Stacey Ellenberger, Amanda Farlow, Monica Whitaker and Chrissy Baldwin. Glen Burnie might not match last year's 14-2 record but it could come close.
7 Atholton -- See capsule.
8 Glenelg -- See capsule.
9 Broadneck -- The Bruins have established a strong reputation over the past several years and nothing should change now that Krista Rohrer has replaced Tom Cole as coach. Broadneck had a 12-2 record last season and had to face eventual state 3A champion Centennial in the 3A East Region final. Rohrer said her team is looking sharp on offense and has an intense desire for hitting. Now if she can fine-tune the defense, everything should be OK, she said.
10 Perry Hall -- Two big hitters -- senior Erica King and junior Stephanie Sanzone -- return for a team that had a 15-5 record last season. Three of those losses came to powers Northern of Calvert County, Severna Park and Loch Raven. The Gators will be helped by senior setter Kim Updyke.
11 Dulaney -- The Lions ousted Perry Hall from the 4A North
regionals last year and went on to the region championship match before losing to Western in five games. Dulaney had a 16-3 match record last season and lost only two games in the regular season to Baltimore County competition -- both to Perry Hall. The Lions gained revenge for those two games when they beat the Gators in the playoffs.
12 North County -- The Knights already have surprised Spalding and Chesapeake for a 2-0 start and appear to be on their way to a Cinderella season after a 5-7 year in 1994. Three of the returning players have played club ball, led by senior setter Melanie Scheckles. "We have a better-hitting team than I anticipated and we're playing with confidence," said coach Amy Williams. "I guess that's why we're pulling off some big wins."
13 Mercy -- The defending Catholic League regular-season and tournament champions lost a lot of outstanding players from last season, including All-City/County first-teamer Rachael Grob. But a 14-2 junior varsity team and a lot of players with summer camp experience will enable the Magic to keep on winning. The top players are senior Chris Lessner and juniors Kim Bittner, Erika Hanson and Kim Hooper.
14 Archbishop Spalding -- Runners-up to Mercy in the Catholic League last season, Spalding is aiming for the top this year under eighth-year coach Linda Taylor. She has said the Cavaliers "expect to win" the Catholic League title with an outstanding array of hitters. The top hitters are seniors Crystal Henderson and Crystal Ray and junior Sandy Sandifer. Kathleen O'Hara is the top setter.
15 Western -- When a team loses a big hitter like Chanel Wright, it has to hurt a lot. Wright is attending the University of North Carolina where she will play basketball. Coach Shirley Williams is scrambling to put another strong team on the floor after compiling a 16-4 record last year. "We'll be a more balanced team than last year," she said. "We have some talent but lack experience." Western is favored to win the Baltimore City public schools title.
How the poll is conducted: The Volleyball Top 15 is compiled by the local sports staff of The Baltimore Sun.