Aug. 29—The consensus among Harford County girls volleyball coaches is that there isn't a clear cut upper echelon of teams. Layna Douglass confidently predicted games this year's slate of games will be worth the price of admission.
Douglass' Fallston squad is coming off a 12-6 season with four of those losses reaching five sets. The third-year coach used words like 'interesting,' 'fun' and 'stressful' to describe the competitive nature of the conference. Meanwhile, a rival coach dubbed the Cougars a dark horse to finish atop the standings.
Here's a look around the county (Editor's note: not all teams responded to requests for information):
Coach: Jimmia McCluskey, third season
Last year: 12-0
Top returners: Seniors Jocelyn Kruger (OH), Jasmine Adams (RS/MB) and Elyssa Xavier (RS); junior Lia Lucas (S).
Newcomers to watch: Junior Amara Armstrong (MB) and Kimara Sewell (MB); sophomore Grace Gardner (L).
Coach's outlook: "I think that moving up in the conference is going to give my girls more of a competitive outlook as to what to expect in playoffs. This group of ladies works well together with teaching the new people as well as giving constructive feedback to each other, so that everyone is challenging themselves at practice. Communication within the group motivates them to want to do better for the team. I think that this year will be the one that shocks some people because even though my girls have different skill levels, they are capable of playing to their strengths and working as a team."
Coach: Dave Simon, fourth season
Last year: 16-2, 3A state quarterfinalist
Top returners: Seniors Tia Pegler (S) and Kayden Hardenbrook (OH); junior Anna Kane (S/RSH).
Newcomers to watch: Juniors Aubrie Faulkner (MH) and Annalise Lewis (OH).
Coach's outlook: "The teams in Harford County have all been getting stronger. We expect our close rivals from C. Milton Wright, Fallston and Patterson Mill to continue to challenge us. We know we can't look past anyone. The good news for Bel Air is that we have matured as well and should have a lot of options offensively this year. We have added four notable arms to the offense. Senior setter Tia Pegler and junior setter Anna Kane should have plenty of options in the attack. We think we will be well balanced from all parts of the court and that should make us tough to stop. The team will be fun to coach. They are energized and poised to compete for another championship run."
C. Milton Wright
Coach: Dave Naugle, fifth season
Last year: 7-7
Top returners: Seniors Cami Naugle (MH), Cara Hoover (MH), Olivia Lawrence (L), Maddie Spigler (RS) and Ciara Green (RS/MH); juniors Ana Mioduski (OH), Olivia Kobb (OH), Maddie Duffalo (RS) and Jenna Ritz (S).
Newcomers to watch: Junior Lena Rockhill (MH); sophomores Addison Bradley (S) and Rachel Bolt (L).
Coach's outlook: "We have all but one of our starters coming back this year. Our starting rotation last year consisted of five sophomores and two juniors (both middles). Now they're one year older, all of them have played club, some of them together on the same team, so the cohesiveness is there. A very talented group of girls who are hungry to win."
Coach: Hannah Whitmire, fifth season
Last year: 12-6, regional finalist
Top returners: Seniors Chiara Migini-Baez (OH), Bryanna Carter (OH) and McKenzie Badham (S); junior Zyianna Rowlette (MH).
Newcomers to watch: Juniors Aryella Cullum (DS), Bella Haden (All-around player), Folashewa Olaniyi (MH) and Sofia Ortiz (S); freshman Peyton Parise (DS).
Coach's outlook: "Our team has many new players and many experienced players returning this season. We have so much talent and potential with this team. I'm looking forward to seeing all we can accomplish and for a competitive, fun season."
Coach: Layna Douglass, third season
Last year: 12-6
Top returners: Seniors Kyra Douglass (OH) and Grace Pfaff (L).
Newcomers to watch: Junior Sam Ruth (S); freshman Sloane Mister (OH).
Coach's outlook: "This should be an exciting year for Fallston women's volleyball. Every year we start out rough around the edges but it's always a joy to see the players develop with each match. The best moments are when these athletes realize how great they are together. They are a hard-working group and we should finish well. ... I predict a lot of very close matches so spectators should get their money's worth."
Coach: Caitlin Torley, second season
Last year: 10-5
Top returners: Seniors Alex Holzinger (S), Viviana Rodriguez Ahumada (RS) and Ashley Blanca (L); junior Lauren Kunes (S/OH).
Newcomers to watch: N/A
Coach's outlook: "Our goal is to have a lot of fun this season and leave our whole hearts on the court!"
Havre de Grace
Coach: Ashley Algard, fourth season
Last year: 4-10
Top returners: Seniors Ava Holloway (L/DS) and Kayleigh Bolen (OH); juniors Kinsey Mentzer (OH) and Lilly Dalton (S/RH).
Newcomers to watch: Senior Kailyn McCoy (L/DS); junior Claire Bond (S/RS); sophomore Sophia Holloway (MB); freshman Sabree Knox (MB).
Coach's outlook: "I, along with my other coaching staff, are extremely optimistic about this season. We lost a lot of talent this year from graduation and athletes not returning due to Injuries, but the heart and effort we see from this group of girls is unmatched. The positive team atmosphere along with the communication combined with their skills and strengths puts us in a good position to only improve from last year. I am extremely lucky to be able to coach a group of girls who work so hard each day in practice to improve and make their school and program proud."
Coach: Susan Arena, eighth season
Last year: 2-12
Top returners: Seniors Kennedy Green (OH) and Kayla Distance (MB/RS); juniors Sanaya Nevels (OH) and Jade Shaw (S).
Newcomers to watch: Juniors Imani Brooks (S) and Brianna Housley (RS).
Coach's outlook: "We have a young squad and are finding the right leadership on the court to develop our skills every day. We are looking to compete in every match and reach our goals. How our chemistry builds as a team will determine how far we go in our season."
Coach: Joe Scheide, fourth season
Last year: 5-11, IAAM quarterfinalist
Top returners: Seniors Kaitlin Klara (S) and Anna Gostomski (MB).
Newcomers to watch: Sophomores Becca Williams (S), Ava Pollock (DS) and Maddie Kimmel (MB).
Coach's outlook: "I think we have a really young and talented group of girls this year. We are a sophomore-heavy roster with some great leadership from our Juniors and Seniors. This group has been impressive since they entered the gym Day 1 and I look forward to watching them grow together as a team and continue to develop both as a team and individually. A ton of really great talent and a lot of opportunity for this group."
Coach: Barbara Matthews, 12th season
Last year: 3-12
Top returners: Seniors Rylee Branagan(MH) and Dyllan Dinbokowitz (S).
Newcomers to watch: Juniors Bella Santana (OH) and Emily Signor (MB); sophomores Arlynn Goodman (L) and Alex Manzari (S); freshman Tara Stone (OH).
Coach's outlook: "We have a young team with brand new players that work well together. We will have a strong bond to find the leadership we need to be competitive. We will have to work hard and have trust in each other to achieve our goals. But I think we will have a strong finish and be competitive in the playoffs."
Coach: Myranda Poynton, first season
Last year: 15-5, regional champions, state semifinalist
Top returners: Senior Julia Shrewberry (MH) and Ava Shores (L); junior Zoe Valan (S); freshman Anna Elliot (MH).
Newcomers to watch: Sophomores Harlon Jones (OH) and Sophie Lopano (OH).
Coach's outlook: "We're looking to win regionals again and win states."
Coach: Matt Borrelli, 11th season
Last year: 1-16
Top returners: Seniors Ryleigh Racine (OH) and Presley Givens (L).
Newcomers to watch: Junior Julianna Reffitt (OH) and sophomore Taylor McGuirk (S).
Coach's outlook: "I am very optimistic about our team this season. We have an excellent mix of seniors, juniors, and sophomores who are all working very hard. We have a balanced team offensively and defensively, and we're excited to begin this new season together."