Najmah Fauntleroy's return has made quite a difference for the No. 14-ranked Arundel volleyball team.
The Wildcats started off 0-3, losing non-league matches to Oakland Mills, Bowie and McDonough of Charles County without their three-year starter and All-County performer who was then academically ineligible.
Arundel has since won its first two county matches with Fauntleroy to improve to 2-3.
"She had not practiced with us, and we were using a crazy, makeshift lineup the first three matches," said third-year coach Greg LeGrand. "We were really out of sync."
Fauntleroy had seven kills and two blocks in a 15-0, 15-8 and 15-5 win over Annapolis (0-3) in what was the county-league season opener for both schools. The Wildcats then ripped Meade, 15-2, 15-10, 15-4, on Friday.
"Najmah makes us a contender not only in the county, in the state playoffs too, " LeGrand said.
Arundel emerged last season as one of the county's best, going 14-5 overall as the 6-foot Fauntleroy, who is also a standout in basketball, set school records for kills (248) and blocks (167).
Fauntleroy is part of a strong returning nucleus that includes setter Leslie Chandler and hitters Melissa Scott and Kelly Moore.
Chandler, who had 10 assists in each of the first two victories and was a combined 17-for-18 serving, had no doubt that Fauntleroy would be back and said her teammate "means a lot to our team and confidence. We are not the same team without Najmah."
Arundel hopes to challenge No. 6-ranked Broadneck (3-0 overall, 1-0 league) and No. 7 Severna Park (3-3, 2-0) for the county title. The Wildcats play the two perennial contenders back-to-back. They visit Broadneck on Oct. 6 and play host to defending champion Severna Park on Oct. 10.
"We would like to win both, but if we can split, we should have a shot at being in the county championship," LeGrand said.
A surprise volleyball team has been St. Mary's, which is off to a 6-0 start including victories over county public school teams Glen Burnie by 3-1 and Annapolis, 3-0.
The Saints, who lost in the semifinals of the IAAM to finish with an 8-7 record, expect to go farther this year despite losing four starters.
Junior setter Margo Ambrosetti has been outstanding along with hitters Erin Linblad (senior) and Kateena Redondo (junior).
Mike Ziegler, who was an All-Metro pitcher at Old Mill in 1997 before going on to play Florida State, was 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 48 strikeouts and eight walks in 43 innings for Single-A Vancouver (Northwest League) this summer after signing a bonus contract with the Oakland Athletics.
Ziegler, a 6-4, 230-pound right-hander who possesses exceptional control, a superb changeup and a fastball in the 90s, was drafted on the 14th round by Oakland. Ziegler is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League with the Peoria Javelinas.
Gavin Floyd, a senior at Mount St. Joseph and The Sun's All-Metro Baseball Player of the Year, visited South Carolina and will visit Clemson in late October, but he may never play college baseball.
Floyd, who is having a great fall with Dean Albany's Oriolelanders, is expected to be first-round draft pick in June with Severna Park neighbor and Mount St. Joe grad Mark Teixiera, the College Player of the Year who is a junior at Georgia Tech.
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