Same story, different cast. That could pretty much be the theme of Baltimore City teams this season.
While volleyball continues to grow in the city, the programs that are traditionally strong are again the ones that should finish on top.
Western, winners of the last three city volleyball crowns, is again the team to watch. The Doves return a strong group led by Ericka Butler, an all-city/county performer last season. Lillian Drumgold, a senior hitter, will also play a prominent role.
Shirley Williams returns as varsity coach after a five-year absence. She says the key to the team will be how well the young players develop, particularly those from last season's JV.
Poly, which lost to Western in the City Championship last year, also will be strong. The Engineers lost four starters from last year, but coach Norman Perry likes his returnees. The team will have plenty of juniors and seniors, but Perry says they will be inexperienced. The strength of the team will be the offense, with senior setter Delora Wilson the key.
The main problem Perry must contend with is his team's confidence.
"We almost have a phobia when it comes to Western," says Perry. "They are a big challenge for us, but the biggest challenge is for us to believe in ourselves."
Another suprise contender may be Carver. The Bears return just about everybody from last year's 9-4 team, including nine seniors. Carver will be led by Ebony Scott, Jessica Greene and Shannell Moore, all of whom are experienced seniors.
"They know each other real well," said Carver coach Cynthia Tyson. "If we can improve on our consistency and develop more of a team concept, we should really be good."
The picture is just the opposite at City, as far as experience goes. The divisonal runner-up to Western last season, the Knights graduated all but two players from last season. City will be led by senior hitter Shantrice Coleman, but the nucleus of the team will come from a JV team that finished in the middle of the pack.
Mervo should return most of its team from last year, and the Mustangs could make a run at Western. The team, led by senior hitter Camella Boyd and senior setter Aeyisha Rucker, has been hampered by low turnout at practice.
Patterson returns two players from last year, and one starter in senior hitter Natalie Harris
After the first six, there is a drop-off to the next group, which includes Edmondson, Forest Park, Northern, and Lake Clifton.
Among the private schools, Mercy appears to be the top team, while Friends rebuilds after winning the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference last year. The Quakers lost eight of nine players to graduation, and new coach Sallie Neal will have her hands full.
At Mercy, the Magic return seven players from a team that finished third in the A Conference last year with a 13-6 record. Seniors Kelli McKey, Erin McKay and junior Chardonnay McCord are the team leaders
The Institute of Notre Dame moves up from the B Conference to the A, and returns all its starters. Senior Kristin Prokrywka, a hitter, and Sarah Jones, a setter, lead the team. First-year coach Bill Murray says this will be a year of adjustments, both to his coaching style and to the higher conference, but the Indians should hold their own.
Bryn Mawr also moves up to the A Conference, and coach Neil Gabbey says this is the perfect year. The Mawrtians return nine players, led by seniors Jenn Brookland and Kate Robertson.
The outlook has improved at Catholic, where three starters (senior Emily Olszewski and juniors Anglesia Threat and Cassie Williams) return from a 6-11 team.
Roland Park graduated eight seniors from last year, so this could be a long season. Seniors Lauren Dodrill, Anne Lindsay, and Lindsey Guipe return.
Seton Keough is still looking for a coach, so that program is in a bit of disarray as the season begins. Seniors Gen Olds and Emily Curran return.