The Fallston girls and the Havre de Grace boys are in position to win or share county volleyball championships this week, but the road appears much easier for one than the other.
Fallston, unbeaten in league matches, will end that phase of its season Tuesday at Aberdeen.
The boys league has shown balance among the strong teams, with John Carroll undefeated, and Havre de Grace (Fallston) and Fallston (John Carroll) with one loss each. Tuesday, Havre de Grace will be home against John Carroll, whose only loss in 11 matches was a non-league outing against the Warriors, and Aberdeen will be at Fallston.
A John Carroll protest of its match at Bel Air was upheld, and play will be resumed Thursday, with John Carroll holding a 2-1 lead in games. This match, as with the Tuesday pairings, will begin at 3:15 p.m.
At the beginning of Fallston's season, second-year girls coach Elaine Settelmaier knew her team would be good; she just did not know how good.
With three holdovers from a 2-14 team and four newcomers, including two exchange students, she was concerned how they would come together as a team.
The three veterans were senior setter Katie Daino, a team captain; senior co-captain Liz Korpela; and junior hitter Tonya Worthington. They were joined by 5-foot-10 senior Jessica Mook; junior Lindsay Tanner; Katya Pinna, a senior from Italy, and Anne Ravn, a junior from Denmark.
The last three are new to the school this year, and all arrived with good skills. Pinna is the top server and has had more point runs than any of the others. Hitting is Ravn's top skill, particularly from the back line.
The Cougars went four games with North Harford and John Carroll, and won three close games with C. Milton Wright, which was unbeaten at the time.
Settelmaier is relatively new to Fallston and the sport, having arrived from Pennsylvania last year with no volleyball experience.
"It's been a challenge -- for me and the players," she said. "I teach basic skills; nothing fancy. They know I'm working hard and want them to do well. They respect that, and I appreciate what they do. They are bringing out the best in one another, and we've been building mutual respect.
"Some of them went to summer camps and you could tell it made a difference. They came back with skills they didn't have last year."
This was evident in the three-game sweep of Edgewood last week, a noticeably faster-paced match than previous outings.
At Havre de Grace, Kathy Graybeal is having a different experience as a second-year coach. She got the boys program started a year ago, produced a 10-5 record, with some surprising wins, and now is seeing the effects of a winning team.
"I had 15 show up for the first practice and we're up to 21 for the varsity and our first-time JV team," Graybeal said.
There are 14 players on the varsity, headed by Kevin Gross, a 6-4 senior, who is the team leader on and off the court.
"He showed some leadership last year, although then-senior John Carr was our leader. Now, Kevin has stepped into his own," Graybeal said. "He leads us in just about every statistical category, has never missed a practice, his strong worth ethics carry over, and he mentors our younger players."
The top seven include six holdovers -- seniors Gross, Charles Bomboy, David Briggs (the only one under 6 feet tall), and Jody Hochstein; junior Joe Oliphant and sophomore Josh White.
The newcomer is junior Ken Pasley, a 6-3 leaper who was aware some of Gross' improved basketball play last winter came from his volleyball skills, and decided to come out for the team this fall. He did not participate in a fall sport as a sophomore.
"Before the season, we thought bettering last year's record was not unrealistic, but we have talked more about potential," Graybeal said of her 11-1 team. "We want a strong positive mental attitude. Losing to Fallston in four games early took the pressure off us.
"Playing well -- that's the key. If we go out intent on winning, that's too much pressure. Sure, we want to win; but more than that, we want to have fun. In the loss to Fallston, we had mental breakdowns, and they learned from it. In the win over John Carroll [rallying from 1-2 to win], we never looked back, and just kept plugging."