After losing five of their top eight players from last season's team, which lost in the first round of the regional playoffs, not much was expected from the Fallston volleyball team this season.
But everything came together for coach Nicole Hoover's eighth-ranked Fallston team, which set a school record for victories and captured the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference title last week.
"I think probably the motivating point was people didn't give us much of a chance because we lost [so many] and a lot of height," Hoover said. "We wanted to sort of prove everyone wrong."
Now the Cougars (14-1) want to do more. Fallston is the No. 2 seed in the Class 3A East regional playoffs. The Cougars have a first-round bye and will host either Aberdeen or Bel Air at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Top-ranked Reservoir, a Class 2A state finalist last year, is the region's No. 1 seed.
Hoover has a strong rotation of eight players this season in Rachel Kuegler (outside hitter), Becca Webb (middle blocker), Kate DelVecchio (setter), Shannon Rumple (setter), Britt Hawkes (outside hitter), Lindsey Stielman (libero), Jess Harlee (middle blocker) and Shannon Webb (outside hitter).
"This is a unique group," Hoover said. "A lot of them have been playing club ball. They all just get along, and they have the same common goals. They're very unselfish."
The Cougars come into the regionals with an eight-match winning streak. The most recent victory was a 25-10, 25-9, 25-16 sweep of North Harford in the UCBAC title match last week.
Their only loss came to defending Class 1A state champion Rising Sun. But the Cougars also beat their UCBAC rival later.
The top-ranked C. Milton Wright girls cross country team got a mild surprise Thursday when No. 3 Dulaney pulled out a close victory in the Class 4A North regional meet.
The host Lions placed all five of their runners in the top 10 and scored 25 points. Sara Bailey won the race for C.M. Wright in 18 minutes, 42 seconds, but the Mustangs ended up with 39 points and second place.
The No. 5 C.M. Wright boys fared better, scoring an easy victory. The Mustangs finished with 39 points to finish well ahead of Dulaney (82) and Linganore (83).
Pete Houlihan led the Mustangs by finishing second. Sumanth Kuppali of Perry Hall won the race, five days after capturing the Baltimore County title.
C.M. Wright boys volleyball coach Rob Lewandowski missed the final part of last week's Harford County tournament because of the birth of his daughter.
Lewandowski's Mustangs were the top seed in the tournament after going 12-2 in the regular season and tying with Fallston for the regular-season county title. The two teams then made their way through the one-day tournament at North Harford before Fallston edged the Mustangs, 25-23, in the one-game championship match.
But Lewandowski had already left, missing both the semifinals and finals because his wife had gone into labor. Cara Rose Lewandowski was born shortly thereafter, making C.M. Wright's championship loss a bit easier for the coach to swallow.
"That whole night was interesting," he said.
The John Carroll girls team came close but couldn't defend its Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference cross country title last week.
Notre Dame Prep won the championship at Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County. The Blazers totaled 62 points to beat out John Carroll by 12. Erika Stasakova was first in the A Conference in 19:10, while Elizabeth Tauber finished third (19:41). Nicole Clarke finished 11th in 20:25.
Glenelg Country School junior Maeve Ricaurte won the race - despite being from the B Conference - in 19:01. The two conferences race together, but separate awards are given to both conferences.
Injuries have bothered John Carroll this season, but coach Rob Torres and his team will get one more chance in a big race. The Patriots go to Glenelg Country School on Saturday to compete in the Maryland/D.C. private schools state title race.
Still in first
Joppatowne and North Harford were in first place in their respective regions after the eighth week of the football season.
The Mariners had a big lead in Class 1A East, while Havre de Grace was battling for the final playoff spot. If the Warriors hold on, they will play Joppatowne in the opening round.
North Harford took the lead in Class 3A East. The Hawks and Howard are battling for first place. Fallston and Bel Air are in sixth and seventh place, respectively.
Under the state's points system, teams receive points for victories - the higher an opponent's class, the more a win is worth - and additional points based on victories by defeated opponents. Four teams from each region make the playoffs.
Edgewood is in sixth place in Class 2A East, where four teams will be fighting for the last playoff spot.