By Nelson Coffin
With another volleyball season on tap, look for conference champions Notre Dame Prep (A), Maryvale (B) and St. Frances Academy (C) to seek repeats.
NDP, which claimed its second title in three seasons under coach Jim Isphording after posting just a 7-5 mark in conference play, will have a target on its back as teams such as St. Paul’s School for Girls — led by coach Kelly Wilkinson — look for revenge.
After all, the Gators went a perfect 12-0 in the A Conference in 2016 and garnered the top seed in the playoffs.
That’s when Isphording and the Blazers caught fire, losing just one set in victories over John Carroll, Archbishop Spalding and St. Paul’s to grab the crown.
This year, NDP boasts another strong — if not quite as experienced as last year — core of players, including seniors Erin Grace, Megan Tomasic and Mary Norris, juniors Sarah Rose and Julia Franzoni and sophomores Brooke Conway and Hannah Einbrod leading the way.
St. Paul’s will be paced by Monet Peoples, an Honorable Mention All-Metro, and All-Conference selection in 2016. The senior star was second in kills last season and is formidable presence at the net.
St.Paul’s also returns senior, Morgan Hill, who led the team in assists last season.
Sophomore Jalen Dickerson will also be counted on offensively. Junior Camy Barringer will start at the libero position this season after a successful offseason.
“With five freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and two seniors, our expectations this season will be to improve each and every day with the challenging A conference schedule and tough out-of-conference opponents such as Arundel,” St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkinson said.
The rival that has already proven to be NDP's main antagonist is Mount de Sales Academy, which defeated the Blazers, 25-10, 25-20, 18-25, 23-25, 15-10, on Sept. 7. behind a monster match from freshman outside hitter Mary Grace Goyena (18 kills, 2 blocks, 10/14 serves).
The rookie star had help from senior outside hitter Hanna Katulski (12 kills, 10/11 serves, 5 digs), junior middle blocker Lauren Gartrell (4 kills, 4 blocks), junior libero Malina Beideman (26/26 serves, an ace, 16 digs) and freshman Chidinma Onukwugha (9 kills, 12/14 serves, 2 aces, 2 blocks) in the victory.
According to coach Kristina Wells, McDonogh is preparing for a different kind of season in the A Conference.
“The 2017 season at McDonogh will be the year of change,” she said. “The team brings in a new cast of players and positions, with only four returning players from last year's varsity team, we are looking to develop a new unit, lead by a new coaching staff. Although change is scary, it is also good and we are looking forward to high expectations from this young team, with so many talented but inexperienced players in the rotation. The team is full of passion and heart for the game of volleyball.”
She added that there will still be high expectations for some returning players in new roles, including Hannah Rothe and Kyah Reid, who will lead the offense and libero Lynn Yasuda, set to be the key to the Eagles’ defense.
Archbishop Spalding will rely on some experienced returnees and novices to guide the team through the season.
Seniors Sarah Couch (setter), Taysha Bender (middle hitter) and Mackenzie Kapral (hitter), junior defensive specialists Megan Mobley and Caitlin Iley, sophomore outside hitter Jacey Lewis and freshman outside hitter Jillian Hunter will form the team's core.
"I think we will finish towards the top of the IAAM," Spalding coach Scott Rombach said. "Lewis is back for her second season on varsity and I am looking for her to pick up where she left off last year. Also looking to the seniors for their leadership and experience to help the team be competitive."
Figure on Maryvale Prep’s run through the playoffs last season to continue to give the Lions confidence this fall.
They already proved as much by their play in a recent 3-2 setback to NDP by the fact that they had the lead in the final set against the champion Blazers,
Led by senior outside hitters Taylor Cover and Erin Shaffrey and senior libero Issy Santina, Maryvale is primed to be a force in the B Conference again.
Setter Kayla Koch and fellow juniors Kalee Corraine (outside hitter) and Emily Donahoe (middle hitter) give the Lions more strength as does sophomore middle hitter Claire Neff and freshman setter Sophie Savic.
Other B Conference hopefuls include a veteran squad from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Chapelgate Christian Academy, St. Vincent Pallotti and Mercy.
The Cougars feature senior setter Liz Mazurek, junior middle hitter Ariana Alleyne and sophomore libero Halle Kerr.
“This team did not graduate any seniors, and is looking to improve upon last years rebuilding season,” Mt. Carmel coach Nicole Gartrell said. (There is a mix of experience and inexperience on this team. The success of the season depends on how fast the inexperienced players adjust to the pace of the B Conference, which is a solid, tough conference from top to bottom. We expect to compete in every game.”
Returning hitters Abby Klinenstein and Niya Ahmed will be joined by newcomer Destiny Barrera on the frontline.
Chapelgate’s most proven returnees include senior right side hitter Alexis Beauregard, junior outside hitter Evan Nesslage and
sophomore outside hitter Jessica Lucas.
Pallotti’s new coaching staff will emphasize defense this season.
“It has been fun getting to know the girls and training them to become the great players and leaders they can be on and off the court,” said Pallotti coach Tamara Leslie. “We are working hard on fundamentals and making sure that we are mentally tough to prepared to go all the way. My assistant coach, Njameh (Jay) Phillip, and I have been focusing on developing our team’s passing and defense. Both of us were liberos in college and emphasize a strong defense. We also want to make our offense faster. We expect a lot from our junior setter, Trinity Thomas. She knows the game well and is very good at running the offense. We want to run the ball faster because we have hitters who can hit faster sets.”
Senior middle hitter Zaria Edmonds, senior outside hitter Faith Williams and junior right side hitter Olivia Mitchell are poised for big seasons.
“They know how to score.” Leslie said. “Faith sees the court well and is good at reading on defense. Olivia is jumping out of the gym and we are
working on making sure she mixes up her shots. Zaria is 6’2”, and provides a big block and is our go-to middle hitter.”
Mercy’s mission will be to become more competitive after winning just one conference match in 2016.
Coach Matt Marion said his hard-working group will have junior outside hitter Savanna Foertsch’s strong serve and smart play on the court to help the Magic, as will senior setters Kayla Szczybor and Morgan Pettebone.
“Both Kayla and Morgan will contribute this year,” Marion said. “They both do a nice job of getting to the ball. Morgan blocks well and Kayla plays great defense”
Sophomore libero Gracie Howard does a nice job digging, and has a great serve, Marion said.
“We have a very balanced team this year,” he added. “We have at least eight girls who will contribute regularly. This is a very hard working group who is improving every day. This is one of the more talented teams we’ve had in a while here at Mercy and I expect these girls to contend every match”
While St. Frances is still glowing after seizing its first title, contenders abound in the C Conference.
Beth Tfiloh and Key hopes to be among those teams chasing the champs in November.
To that end, the Warriors will compete with top performers such as outside hitter Rebecca Goldovsky, libero Ashley Case, middle hitter Lauren Banks and defensive specialist Ilana Harrow.
The Obezags also have high hopes with senior setters Christina Stavrou, Olivia Stone and Aryn Coby, senior middle hitter Sloane Butler, junior outside hitter Alex Reichardt, junior libero Racheal Fisher and sophomore libero Denise Morova the most significant contributors.
“As a second-year team, the Obezags are looking to become more fluid in our game play and transitions,” Key coach Jonathon Coslick said. “We have a large team this year with 22 players, and a total of 12 returners to lead the way. Our team chemistry has been solid during preseason, we now look to improve upon our record from last year.”
Among its returnees, Glenelg Country School will feature senior outside hitters Sabrina Jackson and Sophia Jalali this fall.
"Sabrina has significantly improved her serve to be more consistent and aggressive and is one of the team's stronger hitters," coach Dennis Seibel said. "Sophia is the team's most aggressive server, a strong hitter, and a six-rotation player."
Junior setter/outside hitter Asya Loeb was an All-Star in 2015 and 2016.
"Asya is the team's No. 1 returning setter and is also a strong hitter and good passer," Seibel said.
Junior middle blocker Joy Hursey, "is the team's best blocking force at the net and is a consistent server" while seniore defensive specialist Phoebe Jeng "is one of the team's best returning passers," Seibel said.
Newcomers include junior defensive specialist Kaelyn Gloyd, the best passer on last year's JV team, and sophomore middle blocker Sydni Williams, whose height and aggressive play at the net gives her the potential to develop into a good middle blocker, according to Seibel.
"This season's team will be dependent on the setting of Asya Loeb (who is our only returning setter that saw significant court time last year), the hitting and blocking of Sabrina Jackson at the OH position, the all-around court play of Sophia Jalali, and the blocking and hitting of Joy Hursey at the MB position," Sebel said. "Our keys to success will be finding a second setter to allow Asya to hit when in the front row, and integrating a few of the players from last year's JV team into the rotation during matches. Another essential element of team success will be to improve our passing of serves to the setter to allow for more effective hitting attempts."