Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Girls volleyball: It’s the changing of the guard

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Gazette file photo
Wootton senior Gena Hlavinka is one of the best hitters in the county and heads up an experienced team that could go even further this year.
As the new girls volleyball season approaches, change, once again, is in the air. To start things off, both teams that reached the Class 4A state final in 2006, Sherwood and Damascus, have experienced coaching changes, as Brian McCarty takes over for state champion Sherwood and Brandie Couch leads Damascus. Yet, on the floor, the changes might be more stirring. Of the 15 players on the 2006 All-Gazette first team, 13 were seniors, highlighting a season when most of the heavy hitters in Montgomery County were in their final year of high school. This season might be the year when new names and playing styles emerge.

‘‘We were devastated as a whole by graduation, but that has happened in the county before,” Magruder coach Scott Zanni said. ‘‘You are going to have some years like that. Four years ago we lost several great hitters that went on to play Division I [college] volleyball. A year or two years later, we had a lot of good players again. This year will be interesting.”

In fact, the graduation of hitters like Gazette Player of the Year Kailee May, now at Fordham (N.Y.) University, or two-time Gazette first-teamer Kaitlin Straiter, who is now playing at Division II Francis Marion (S.C.) University, portend a power outage this season, but not necessarily. The sparks may fly on the other side of the ball.

‘‘Defense might finally get some of the credit that it deserves,” Gaithersburg coach Michele Staymates said. ‘‘It has a chance to shine in some respects. It may come down, this year, to the group that can put forth the best team effort, or the team that has the best setter.”

At Magruder, Zanni is still trying to find the engine for a squad looking to make its third consecutive trip to the 4A West Region final.

‘‘We aren’t trying to replace a [departed] kid with another,” he said. ‘‘This is a team game. We are keeping 15 kids on the roster and we are working them as hard as any team that I have ever coached.”

In the middle of the front row, a pair of 5-foot-10 hitters in senior Alex Coleman and junior Corri Smoot will be asked to provide offense. Senior Stefani Schaeper and junior Andrea Fort will likely play major roles defensively. The player that Zanni is counting on, though, is junior Alison Musser.

‘‘She is versatile,” he said. ‘‘She can pass and hit and set. She should be out on the court the majority of the time. Beyond that, we’ll see. Hopefully, the habits that we set at the beginning of the year will make a difference at the end. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

As the second season after its state championship begins, Gaithersburg hopes to recapture the magic of that undefeated 2005 season. The loss of five more players from last year’s team, which reached the 4A West Region semifinals, could make that task tough.

‘‘We have lost 12 players in the last two years, so we have a lot of youth,” Staymates said. ‘‘But, we have had some youngsters that have stepped up, and we’ve had a good preseason. We are looking forward to this.”

Experience will be found in the form of senior setter Jacqueline Erb, who backed up 2005 Gazette Player of the Year Amanda Krampf during the Trojans’ championship run. Junior Allison McCabe, at 6-foot-1, will be an imposing presence in the middle, and sophomore Bianca Liviocco will replace the graduated Tasha Young as the Trojans’ libero.

‘‘It’s hard to put the ball down on us when she is out there,” Staymates said. ‘‘We’ve been fortunate to have great athletes and tradition since we started our run [Gaithersburg has lost five regular-season matches since 2001] and that never graduates.”

Neighborhood rivals Quince Orchard and Watkins Mill also hope to be on the upswing. Quince Orchard is young, but plans to have junior outside hitter Stacy Dennis on the floor most of the time. Coach Karen Jones calls her one of the best hitters in Montgomery County.

‘‘She’s our big firepower, but we have some other hitters that can get it done,” Jones said. ‘‘We just have to get better with our serve receive, and get our hitters the ball.”

That task will fall to freshman Cristina Garcia, who will play setter. With underclassmen playing, senior hitter Laura Mancuso will be asked to lead.

‘‘She can mix it up,” Jones said of Mancuso. ‘‘She sets a good tone for the rest of the team. We are encouraged so far.”

Watkins Mill comes into the season looking to find hitters and blockers to replace the height at the net it had last year. Middle hitter Cindy Vargas, a junior, and senior outside hitter Kim Van Lowe will be asked to start off that process. Getting them the ball will be sophomore setter Susana Munoz. For the Wolverines, though, the key to wins might be on the other side of the ball.

‘‘Defense, defense, defense,” coach Jody Tyler said. ‘‘We are going to have a ‘nothing hits the ground’ attitude.”

Seneca Valley has a new face at the helm, in the form of coach Bruce Burris. Yet, Burris was the JV coach last season and has some knowledge of his team, and a constant in senior Lauren Green, who will hit and set.

‘‘She’s our captain,” Burris said, ‘‘and she’s our go-to player. After her, it’s a smorgasbord.”

Junior middle hitter Claire Tillis played sparingly last year, but will be asked to do more this season. The same applies to junior outside hitter Swathi Singhalia, while senior Maria Caamano will fill the role of libero.

‘‘We’re trying to get back our consistency,” Burris said. ‘‘We trying to get back to .500.”

At Poolesville, the team comes off a season where it fell to Havre de Grace in the 1A South Region final. Several underclassmen from that team return to help them take the next step.

‘‘We have eight juniors returning,” coach Fran Duvall said, ‘‘and we have a total of 10 players coming back. We have starters that played a lot last year.”

At setter, junior Jenny Better will pushed by sophomore Kelly Rosenberg. Junior middle hitters Chelsea Glowacki and Jessica Chittenden will be joined by junior captain Annie Sekerak in making a hitting triumvirate to be feared.

‘‘This season is about building chemistry,” Duvall said. ‘‘It’s hard work to be good. The question is, can they get themselves to do that work? They are talented, they just can’t get complacent. I will be keeping my eyes out for that.”

Wootton is also bringing back several players to a team that made it to the 4A West Region semifinals a year ago. Senior Gena Hlavinka might be one of the best hitters in the county this year, and has five other classmates, including co-captain Rachel Malinauskas, to help lead. That should take some pressure off sophomore setter Jennifer Chen.

‘‘This season, we need to bring our ‘A’ game when we play ‘A’ teams,” coach Mary Malinauskas said. ‘‘No more wimping out when the going gets tough. We have had a few seasons like that, and nobody wants to admit it when it happens, but we’ve all had just about enough of it. I think the attitude among the girls this year is ‘bring it on, and let’s see what happens.’”

Clarksburg starts its second year as a varsity program with the same players from a year ago. The hope is that a season under their belts will mean more wins. Seniors Lena Kem and Jen Nguyen lead the team.

‘‘We would like to win five matches this year and make it through the first round of the playoffs,” coach Terri Tippett said. ‘‘We are striving to be a formidable team.”

Finally, Damascus will try to get back to the state final for the second straight year. Though May is gone, the Hornets return the only returning All-Gazette first-team member in the public-school ranks in senior setter Arielle Goldberg. Junior hitter Samantha Bonturi also returns.

‘‘I don’t think they are a flash in the pan,” Zanni said. ‘‘Goldberg is the best setter in the county.”

Fast Facts

Clarksbrug Coyotes

Head coach: Terri Tippett, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 1-12

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Lena Kem (Sr., OH), Jen Nguyen (Sr., DS)

Damascus Hornets

Head coach: Brandie Couch, 1st year

Last year’s record: 15-3

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Arielle Goldberg (Sr., setter), Samantha Bonturi (Jr., OH)

Gaithersburg Trojans

Head coach: Michele Staymates, 18th year

Last year’s record: 14-3

Last state title: 2005 (1st)

Players to watch: Bianca Liviocco (Soph., libero), Jacqueline Erb (Sr., setter), Allison McCabe (Jr., OH)

Magruder Colonels

Head coach: Scott Zanni, 15th year

Last year’s record: 15-3

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Allison Musser (Jr., OH), Corri Smoot (Sr., MH), Alex Coleman (Sr., MH)

Northwest Jaguars

Head coach: Theresa Dethlefsen, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 5-9

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Jessica Warner (Soph., setter)

Poolesville Falcons

Head coach: Fran Duvall, 11th year

Last year’s record: 11-5

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Jenny Better (Jr., setter), Chelsea Glowacki (Jr, MH), Jessica Chittenden (Jr., MH)

Quince Orchard Cougars

Head coach: Karen Jones, 8th year

Last year’s record: 9-4

Last state title: 2003 (1st)

Players to watch: Jessica Romero (Jr., libero), Laura Marshall (Sr., MH⁄OH), Cristina Garcia (Fr., setter)

Seneca Valley Eagles

Head coach: Bruce Burris, 1st year

Last year’s record: 4-9

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Lauren Green (Sr., OH⁄MH⁄setter), Swathi Singhalia (Jr., MH), Claire Tillis (Jr., MH)

Wootton Patriots

Head coach: Mary Malinauskas, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 10-3

Last state title: 1989 (6th)

Players to watch: Gena Hlavinka (Sr., MH), Rachel Malinauskas (Sr., MH), Jennifer Chen (Soph., setter)