A year after advancing to the state finals for the ninth time since 1977 and recording their fifth straight county tournament title, Francis Scott Key again figures to be the class of Carroll County.
The Eagles (17-3), who lost to Centennial in last year's Class 2A final, feature three returning senior starters in setter Carrie Ness, outside hitter April Caprarola and 6-foot middle hitter Samantha Stambaugh, as well as another 6-foot middle hitter in Adria Stonesifer, who played nearly as much.
"We have our setter for the fourth year and two six-footers," said Key coach Alice Rau. "Now we need a quicker offense to compete with the teams in our class."
Liberty (14-4), which lost in regional final each of last two seasons, returns half its starting lineup, but must replace county Player of the Year Stephanie Wilder, a dominating middle hitter, as well as its setter.
Back are a pair of seniors in 5-9 all-county hitter Lauryn Smith and back-row player Bethany Hall, as well as honorable-mention all-county outside hitter Becky Trumbo and outside hitter Joanne Brophy, both of whom started as sophomores.
South Carroll (13-4), which lost to Liberty in the regional semifinals, must try to fill the void left by the graduation of nine seniors. First-team all-county hitter Emily Wolfing and setter Geanne Goad, who saw little playing time, are the only two returning seniors.
North Carroll, a .500 team a year ago, lost quite a bit to graduation, but returns 6-footer Lindsay Brothers, as well as seniors Ashley Plott, Stephanie Frase and Jamie Green.
Westminster also will be trying to improve from a disappointing 1999 season, and will have the help of its two returning seniors - setter Julie Garver and outside hitter Jameson Cowan.
One of the best small-school teams in the area is Carroll Christian (18-4), the defending Potomac Christian Athletic Conference and Maryland Association of Christian Schools champion.
Senior hitters Krystal Dixon, Nicole Estes and Anna Mied, and sophomore setter Heather Georg should continue the team's success this season.