With the beginning of the boys volleyball season quickly approaching, Montgomery Blair High School’s team knows it will not be easy to win a third-consecutive county championship.
The loss of five seniors, including Player of the Year Andy Zhang, makes the road more difficult. Still, there is reason to believe the always-powerful Blazers will be in contention for the championship come season’s end.
“We still have a strong squad overall,” Blair coach Chris Liang said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, basically. Right now I’m making sure the players haven’t let those two wins go to their heads so they don’t think the third will be easy. I want them to keep working hard. They’re good, but they’re not great.”
Helping Blair is the addition of Gabriele Rossetti, a transfer from Italy who has played volleyball competitively for six years. He will play libero.
Ricci Huang, who moved to outside hitter from libero this season, said defense will be the mainstay for the Blazers.
“We lost the two-time Player of the Year in Andy, so our hitting isn’t as good,” said Huang, who was a first-team All-Gazette selection last year at libero. “But we got Gabriele. He’s more of a defensive player like I am, and he’ll help. So I don’t think we’re not as strong offensively, but we’re stronger defensively.” Liang things Blair’s top competitors will be Thomas S. Wootton (which lost to Blair in last year’s championship game, 3-0), Richard Montgomery, Clarksburg and Wheaton.
Wootton, which had not lost prior to the championship game last year, returns its starting lineup, including junior outside hitter Paul Malinauskas. Also returning is setter Justin Fowler and outside hitter Jeffrey Qui. “Paul Malinausaks, Jeff Qui, they’re all good players, and so they’re probably going to be a top contender,” Huang said.
With a young roster, this might be the year someone knocks Blair off the throne.
“We’re doing OK,” Huang said. “There’s pressure [to win a third title], but I think mostly, half our team is new so it’s more of a growing year. But we still have a chance.”
In co-ed volleyball, Damascus is favored to win its third-straight county title.
Widely considered to be an unpredictable sport by many of the area coaches, the consensus is still that Damascus will have the top squad, led by Loyola (Chicago) signee Brandon Palmer and Delaware signee Autumn Jenkins.
“They both have done consistently well all four years,” Damascus coach Ryan Mullsteff said. “It’s good to have them both back. When they’re out on the court together, they do really well.”
Mullsteff believes the top co-ed teams this season will be Northwest, Sherwood, Poolesville and Gaithersburg.
To win another championship, staying consistent will be the key, Mullsteff said.
“We struggled at the end of the season last year,” he said. “We have to work as a team and not focus on one specific player. If we spread the ball around, I think we’re going to do well.”