1 Severna Park -- There is just too much talent on this team for the Falcons to have a second straight "off-season." After winning three straight state 4A championships (1991-92-93), Severna Park ran into eventual state 4A champion Northern of Calvert County last season in the East Region finals and lost in three games. The Falcons still finished 20-4 and fourth in the final Baltimore Sun poll. Senior hitters Julie Allen (277 kills last year) and Lauren Butler, who provided most of the power last season, return to lead the team. Jennifer Holmes (a 6-2 senior) is expected to do a lot of damage at outside hitter.
2 Centennial -- Coach Mike Bossom is warning everybody not to expect too much out of the four-time defending 3A champions. )) But Centennial is still Centennial and there is certainly a lot of talent remaining from last year's No. 1 team that was hit hard by graduation. Senior outside hitter Jen West and junior middle hitter Meredith Price are the two top returning players. Six sophomores -- Kathleen O'Connor, Robyn West, Susan Yi, Suzy McCulloch, Briana Zolak and Marcy Cangiano -- are on the team but they all are extremely skilled players.
3 Loch Raven -- See capsule.
4 Mount Hebron -- The Vikings are coming off a 13-4 season and a final No. 5 ranking in the Baltimore Sun poll. Even though they lost All-County players Lisa Kaltreider and Dani Vissers and have a new coach in Henry Dahlan, more success is predicted. "If we play up to our potential, we should be one of the teams to beat," said Dahlan. Sylvia Kaltreider, a senior setter, will lead the Mount Hebron hopes. "She is probably the top setter in the county. She'll be controlling our offense," said Dahlan. Senior outside hitter Amanda Smith is being counted on in a big way.
5 Catonsville -- See capsule.
6 Glen Burnie -- The Gophers finished No. 3 in the final poll last year and look as if they have a good chance to be nearly as strong as last season under coach Juanita Milani who enters her 18th year. Milani considers junior Amy Hutson one of the best hitters in the state, and she will be joined by other outstanding senior hitters Stacey Ellenberger, Amanda Farlow, Monica Whitaker and Chrissy Baldwin. Glen Burnie might not match last year's 14-2 record but it could come close.
7 Atholton -- A move up to 3A puts Atholton in the same class with Howard County rival Centennial and certainly will make life tougher. But coach Sybil Kessinger, whose team finished 14-7 and lost to Loch Raven in the 2A state championship match last season, appears to have her team ready for the higher level of competition. Junior outside hitters Madigan Marth and Jessica Edwards will replace first-team All-County players Amanda Williams and Jennifer Ponzette who have graduated. "This year I have more true athletes on the court than ever before," said Kessinger.
8 Glenelg -- There is speed and the presence of setter/hitter Elisa Davidson for the Gladiators who went 13-4 last season. Davidson, a senior who was a first-team All-Howard County choice last year, will lead the charge for Glenelg, which was the state 2A champions two years ago. Last season, the Gladiators were bounced from the 2A region semifinals by Atholton. This is not a very tall team but appears to have the talent to win a lot of matches.
9 Broadneck -- The Bruins have established a strong reputation over the past several years and nothing should change now that Krista Rohrer has replaced Tom Cole as coach. Broadneck had a 12-2 record last season and had to face eventual state 3A champion Centennial in the 3A East Region final. Rohrer said her team is looking sharp on offense and has an intense desire for hitting. Now if she can fine-tune the defense, everything should be OK, she said.
10 Perry Hall -- See capsule.
11 Dulaney -- See capsule.
12 North County -- The Knights already have surprised Spalding and Chesapeake for a 2-0 start and appear to be on their way to a Cinderella season after a 5-7 year in 1994. Three of the returning players have played club ball, led by senior setter Melanie Scheckles. "We have a better-hitting team than I anticipated and we're playing with confidence," said coach Amy Williams. "I guess that's why we're pulling off some big wins."
13 Mercy -- See capsule.
14 Archbishop Spalding -- Runners-up to Mercy in the Catholic League last season, Spalding is aiming for the top this year under eighth-year coach Linda Taylor. She has said the Cavaliers "expect to win" the Catholic League title with an outstanding array of hitters. The top hitters are seniors Crystal Henderson and Crystal Ray and junior Sandy Sandifer. Kathleen O'Hara is the top setter.
15 Western -- When a team loses a big hitter like Chanelle Wright, it has to hurt a lot. Wright is attending the University of North Carolina where she will play basketball. Coach Shirley Williams is scrambling to put another strong team on the floor after compiling a 16-4 record last year. "We'll be a more balanced team than last year," she said. "We have some talent but lack experience." Western is favored to win the Baltimore City public schools championship.
How the poll is conducted: The Volleyball Top 15 is compiled by the local sports staff of The Baltimore Sun.