To Dulaney coach Ian Blanchard, it's a rebuilding year. For the rest of Baltimore County, however, it could be the same old story -- follow the leader.
The defending Class 4A state-champion Lions (20-0 a year ago) lost three of their top players to graduation, including All-Metro setter Erin Reinhardt. By season's end, however, Blanchard's squad could very well be in contention for another trophy.
"In many respects, it's going to be a rebuilding year," said Blanchard, The Sun's 1999 All-Metro Coach of the Year, "but I have high expectations of this team."
The Lions, who haven't dropped a game to a Baltimore County opponent in two years, return four senior starters in setter/hitters Lindsay Lawson and Lauren Perkins, middle blocker Nicole Tuttle and defensive specialist Julie Salamon.
They also add three from Blanchard's Timeout Orange Crush team, which this summer won the 16-under regionals and advanced to the USA Volleyball Junior Olympic Nationals. They are 5-foot-8 sophomore Jen Wylie, who Blanchard called "a major surprise" at middle hitter, junior outside hitter Veronica Briggs and sophomore utility player Bruna Fonseca.
While the Lions are the class of the county's Division II, several teams figure to battle it out for second place.
Owings Mills (12-5) features one of the area's premier players in 5-10 outside hitter Kallie Wasserman. The senior, the team's top hitter and passer, has grown seven inches since her freshman year when she was a setter. Coach Lisa Meyer can only hope that trend continues with sister Stacey Wasserman, a 5-6 freshman setter.
Perry Hall (9-4) features a very deep and balanced squad. The Gators lost just two players to graduation, and return three of the area's top players in seniors Eun Lim (hitter) and Jessica Walsh (setter), and sophomore Abby Petrecca (outside hitter). They also get a new coach in Christy Rawlins, who last year served as interim coach at Goucher College.
Franklin (9-6) spent the 1999 season building up its program. Now, the Indians seem ready for a championship run.
All but three players return, including seniors Nicole Patton (hitter/setter) -- a powerful hitter and strong server -- Jessica Woodward (hitter), Katie McCarthy (hitter), Melissa Ragon (defense), Rachel Sichel (blocker), Leslie Cox (blocker), Cerina Burgos (setter) and Annie Wong (all around).
Eastern Tech (9-4) is in a rebuilding mode after losing eight seniors to graduation.
Western (1-11), led by outside hitters Elizabeth Inserto (senior) and Nicole Mellon (junior), looks to be somewhat improved, with help coming from a team that's gone 17-9 the past two years.
Following a down year, expectations are higher at Overlea as well, where all but four players return. Chesapeake, winless a year ago, is attempting to rebuild.
Baltimore County's Division I should be hotly contested, as well.
On the surface, Towson (16-4), which advanced to last year's Class 2A North regional finals, seems somewhat inexperienced with only two seniors, but its returning younger players have plenty of club experience.
Three of them, sophomore middle hitter Stephanie Kines, junior setter Michelle Clarke and junior outside hitter Ashley Windisch played for Blanchard's regional championship club team.
Coming off its second straight trip to the Class 2A state semifinals, Hereford (17-2) is doing a bit of reloading this season after losing nine seniors. Seniors Tara Moore (setter), Molly Corbin (outside hitter) and Ashley Shubert (outside hitter), and junior Kim Thompson (middle hitter) will lead the way.
Catonsville (14-4), which lost to Towson in regionals, should again challenge. Leading the way will be a quartet of seniors in setter Maura Lentz and hitters Dannie Packer, Stacey Christy and Lauren McKew, as well as junior middle hitter Ashley Liggett.
Carol McPherson's Loch Raven squad was extremely young a year ago when it finished 9-9. Still young, the Raiders don't have any stars, but are solid all around. Seniors Sarah Dempsey (outside hitter) and Yewande Fapohunda (middle hitter) and juniors Heather Funk (setter) and Celeste Longwell (outside hitter) lead a small but defensively adept team.
Kenwood (9-7) lost its core group of players, including its top two setters, but is loaded with top hitters in seniors Stephanie Steele, Tammie Dively and Nicole Sweeney, and sophomore Dawn White.
At Parkville (8-7), the focus will be on defense, with just two returning starters -- senior setter/outside hitter Sherri Rauenzahn and senior middle hitter Angela Commins.
Four players return for Lansdowne (4-8), which appears to be a strong passing team. Carver, a team that struggled a year ago, returns seven, including senior Gilana Lobel.
Among private schools, McDonogh figures to again be the class of the county. McDonogh (14-2), which lost in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Division final to Friends for the second straight year, only has five returning players, but has looked better than expected during the preseason. The team will be led by sophomore middle hitter Amy Lindholm, sophomore setter Jessy Morgan, junior outside hitter Jamie Schwartzberg and senior outside hitter Hannah Borum.
Arlington Baptist (10-4) has moved from the B to the A Division. The Eagles return five, including four seniors in setter Lori Veasel and hitters Carla Bostic, Lacey Rau and Stephanie Harvey.
Another team moving up in class will be Notre Dame Prep. The Blazers feature plenty of athletic ability, especially from 5-8 senior Beth Thyberg, one of the top hitters in the league a year ago.
In the IAAM B Division, Mount Carmel (12-7), third last year, returns four of six starters, including seniors Sarah Dayberry (setter) and Renata Mihovilic (hitter), and junior hitter Julie Taylorson.
Towson Catholic (2-7) lost two of its top seniors, but has a pair of talented JV players vying to fill the void.
It will mark the first year of varsity competition for Lutheran. The Saints have plenty of solid hitters, including seniors Ali Fitton, Katie Wallace, Mandy Lentsch and Lisa Vowles.
Mount de Sales (2-10) should be far more competitive in its second year, led by hitters Corrie Christenson, a senior, and junior Kelli Mercier.
Maryvale (1-13) looks to be improved with four returning varsity players.
There are also seven area teams set to compete in boys volleyball as part of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. Defending champion Calvert Hall features a strong passing game and a couple of dominating hitters, in Tim Fischer and Matt Stfanski.
Boys' Latin (2-5) features juniors Brendon Smeresky (setter) and Bret Hoffberger (outside hitter), and sophomore defensive standout Andrew Burger. Mount Carmel (0-7) features all-conference hitter Jimmy Snyder, a 6-1 senior.