With talent level rising, Baltimore-area volleyball teams look for edge

Mount Hebron starts season at No. 1 in poll, but the race to the top is wide open

August 28, 2012|By Mike Frainie | For The Baltimore Sun

As the high school volleyball season begins in the Baltimore area, local teams find themselves dealing with an unusual theme -- parity.

In previous years, a few squads in the area were always better than the others. Things are different this season, however, with more girls playing club volleyball in the offseason. The talent level has risen dramatically, causing some traditional powers to take a step back and other schools to emerge.

In Howard County, perennial contender Centennial -- winner of 14 state championships -- is still one of the best teams, but River Hill, the Class 3A runner-up last year, lost a lot of players. At the end of the season, both schools may be looking up at Mount Hebron, which starts the year as the No. 1 team in The Baltimore Sun's poll.

"Our league is pretty equal this year," Centennial coach Larry Schofield said. "I think you could see Atholton, Glenelg, Mount Hebron, River Hill and our team at the top, with Reservoir and Howard as dark horses."

Schofield said he has seen the popularity of volleyball clubs explode over the past few years, which has led to a rise in the level of play around the area.

"When I started coaching, there were maybe five or six volleyball clubs in the area. Now there are about 30 or 40," Schofield said. "It's becoming like soccer and lacrosse for girls -- a year-round sport."

Arundel, the top team in Anne Arundel County, lost two All-Metro first-team players in Lindsey and Ashlyn Tapley, but the Wildcats return a significant part of their lineup. They will be pushed by Broadneck, a team built on speed, and Severna Park, which is an experienced squad.

The Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference race is wide open. Defending champion Archbishop Spalding, the area's No. 1 and only undefeated team last season, lost two All-Metro first-team players, while St.Paul's and Mount de Sales also lost a lot to graduation. Seton Keough appears to be the favorite.

"I talked to the other [A Conference] coaches at our coaches meeting last week, and it seems everybody has one, two, or three good players this year. There is no dominant team," Archbishop Spalding coach Scott Rombach said. "The level of play has definitely gotten better because of the abundance of club players. I'm carrying a freshman on the varsity this season. That's only the third time I've ever done that."

In Baltimore County, a lot of key players graduated from traditional power Towson, while rival Dulaney will return a good core from its runner-up team. Hereford, Catonsville, and Loch Raven should also be improved.

It will be a rebuilding year for Fallston, which will be without All-Metro Player of the Year Rachael Holehouse, as well as her sister Anna, in Harford County. Bel Air could be the team to chase, but the Bobcats will be pushed by C. Milton Wright and Patterson Mill.

Carroll County will be stronger, with Century -- the Baltimore area's only state champion last year (Class 2A) -- returning a good nucleus. The Knights will need to compete with a senior-laden Winters Mill squad, as well as Liberty and Francis Scott Key to be the top team in the county.

Western returns its primary group of players in Baltimore City, but defending champion Poly and City are also expected to play well this season.

With few squads standing out in the preseason, the year should be balanced and full of storylines.

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