When Mount de Sales volleyball coach Kenny Mills saw his team ranked No. 2 in preseason, he was pleased but surprised.
"I expected we might be ranked in the top 10, but I was not expecting No. 2," he said. "Instead of looking at it as pressure, we look at it as something we have to live up to."
The players were just as surprised.
"When they heard about it, they were shocked," Mills said. "The seniors, they're up for the challenge."
The Sailors were 3-0 after defeating No. 6 Archbishop Spalding last night in four sets and primed for a run at the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title.
Mills has five seniors among his core players: 5-foot-10 outside hitter Kasey Mercier, 5-foot-9 middle hitter Natalie Vidmar, libero Elissa Boffen and setters Kelly McGraw and Veronica Ruck. Junior outside hitter Katy Buck, 5 feet 10, ranks among the league's top players, and 6-foot sophomore middle hitter Hannah Schmidt is in her second season on the varsity.
"Our philosophy is, 'Work hard and everyone will notice,' " Mills said. "These girls have a really great work ethic, and they are showing me improvements every day. They're really showing me they want to earn the ranking."
That work ethic, and strong mental focus, helped the Sailors pull out a five-game match Monday night against Covenant Community School with a 15-13 deciding game.
They will try to bring more of the same Tuesday when they play at defending A Conference champion and No. 4 St. Paul's, which features 2007 All-Metro Player of the Year Bailey Webster.
After spending all last year on the road, several teams at Mount St. Joseph again have a home field to call their own.
The school opened its new stadium Saturday, as the seventh-ranked Gaels defeated Thomas Johnson, 41-14, in football. The project was three years in the making, with a year of planning, a year of fundraising and a little more than a year of construction.
"Last year we were on the road for everything," athletic director Paul Triplett said. "It's been such a pleasure to not have that logistical nightmare of getting these teams all over the place. And the facility is absolutely beautiful. It's both fan-friendly and player-friendly. The kids and the coaches just love it."
The facility includes a turf field, a rubberized track, a concrete structure for seating and a larger press box.
The school eventually hopes to build a gym next to the current one, which would be refurbished, and to renovate its baseball diamond and lower field.