Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Girls volleyball: It’s the changing of the guard

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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.

‘‘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.”

Churchill comes into this season looking to find its footing after losing several starters to graduation. Senior Jee-eun Kim, who will play outside hitter, and junior Amy Kaufmann, who will play in the middle, provide some experience.

‘‘We’re trying to develop team chemistry while we work on our overall game,” coach Amanda Cook said. ‘‘We are trying to get better in passing accuracy and increasing our service percentage, but a ‘go-get-em’ attitude will lead to greater success.”

B-CC is the rare team that returns most of its squad from a year ago. For the Barons, which won the 3A West Region title last season, and advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals, that is a very good thing. With a year under their belts, juniors Lee Geiser and Rosie Eck should be one of the best hitting duos in the county.

While Einstein looks to find its footing under new coach Emily Hallam, Magruder coach Scott 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.”

Quince Orchard also hopes to be on the upswing. The Cougars are young, but plan 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.”

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.’”

Coach Bill Morris has Walter Johnson working to keep up the strides the young team made a year ago. Leading the Wildcats will be senior outside hitter Anna Iofin and senior setter Leslie Zelenko.

‘‘We’re working hard to get our roles down,” Morris said. ‘‘We’re still finding out how quick we can be in the back row.”

The Wildcats will need that quickness because they lack height. At 5-foot-8, senior middle hitter Nora Cloherty is their tallest player, but sophomore Anna Elder has improved and will play outside hitter and set.

‘‘We’re further ahead than where we were at this point last year,” Morris said. ‘‘Now we want to put it together.”

Whitman hopes that the early part of the year will bring answers to some holes left by graduation. Senior hitters Rachel Rickert, Whinne Anderson and Caroline Spangler as well as senior setter Brittany Persaud will set the tone. Junior Kristin Jehle will move from hitter to setter this year to replace the departed Anne Peterson.

‘‘We had a big turnover, so we are working on bringing the younger players along,” coach Elizabeth Keating said. ‘‘In some aspects we are starting fresh.”

Richard Montgomery comes into the season experiencing a bit of reversal of fortune. Usually, the Rockets are quick and experienced, but on the smaller side. This year, they have height, in middle hitter Kara Richardson, who is 5-10, but they are inexperienced.

‘‘That is a change, but it is what it is,” coach Elmer Matlock said. ‘‘We want to win, but we are playing a lot of strong teams this season. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Senior setter Daniela Karbatova will run the offense in partnership with all-arounder Irene Wang. Right side hitter Kara Stamets will be their target.

‘‘She’s developing, but she is much improved over last year,” Matlock said of Stamets.

In the private-school realm, Holton-Arms and Stone Ridge will face off in the Independent School League. After a successful 2006, Stone Ridge moved up to the ISL AA Division (the top division) and plans to stay there.

‘‘We need to play like we belong there,” coach Scott Fifield said. ‘‘We have talented people as passers, so we have no excuses.”

Leading the team will be senior Elissa Goeke, an All-Gazette first-team selection a year ago. Also expected to provide offense is senior middle and outside hitter Renee Green. Junior libero Justine Desmond will handle approximately 75 percent of the passing.

‘‘Stone Ridge has never amassed this collection of talent before,” Fifield said. ‘‘Six of our seven AA matches are at home. This is the year.”

Holton-Arms brings back coach Francis Cornejo to help rebuild a team that won just three games last year and was relegated to the A division. With eight players returning, the process is already underway.

‘‘They already know my coaching style,” Cornejo said. ‘‘We have a lot of room for improvement.”

Senior libero Liz Axelson will help direct the ball to senior hitters Sara Cohen and Amira Mattison. Junior Sophia Corrigan might be the team’s best athlete.

‘‘I’m confident that we will win more games,” Cornejo said.

Holy Cross will try to keep pace with its Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival Good Counsel, the defending league champion as well as winner two MD⁄DC Private school tournaments.

‘‘I sometimes wonder what they are feeding those girls over there to keep them so tall,” new Holy Cross coach Rusty Dillon said of Good Counsel. ‘‘But our girls are doing great. We are raising the level of play here.”

Fast Facts

B-CC Barons

Head coach: Michelle Clise, 4th year

Last year’s record: 13-4

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Lee Geiser (Jr., setter), Rosie Eck (Jr., OH)

Churchill Bulldogs

Head coach: Amanda Cook, 3rd year

Last year’s record: 11-4

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Jee-eun Kim (Sr., OH), Amy Kaufmann (Jr., setter)

Einstein Titans

Head coach: Emily Hallam, 1st year

Last year’s record: 1-13

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Carline Morris (Sr., Setter), Jessica Gonzalez (Sr., OH)

Holton-Arms Panthers

Head coach: Francis Cornejo, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 3-12

Players to watch: Liz Axelson (Sr., libero), Sara Cohen (Sr., OH), Amira Mattison (Sr., OH)

Holy Cross Tartans

Head coach: Rusty Dillon, 1st year

Last year’s record: 6-9

Player to watch: Alexandra Andrakakos (Sr., OH)

Magruder Colonels

Head coach: Scott Zanni, 15th year

Last year’s record: 15-1

Last state title: None

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

Stone Ridge Gators

Head coach: Scott Fifield, 4th year

Last year’s record: 10-11

Players to watch: Elissa Goeke (Sr., OH), Renee Green (Sr., OH), Justine Desmond (Jr., libero)

Walter Johnson Wildcats

Head coach: Bill Morris, 16th year

Last year’s record: 5-11

Last state title: None

Players to watch: Leslie Zelenko (Sr., setter), Anna Lofin (Sr., OH), Anna Elder (Soph., OH)

Whitman Vikings

Head coach: Elizabeth Keating, 2nd year

Last year’s record: 4-9

Last state title: 1998 (1st)

Players to watch: Rachel Rickert (Sr., MH⁄OH), Brittany Persaud (Sr., setter), Kristin Jehle (Jr., OH)