Aug. 29—There are some familiar girls volleyball teams expected to contend for the championship in the new-look Lackawanna League.
Blue Ridge, North Pocono, Western Wayne, and Dunmore all received consideration as the preseason favorites to claim the crown, as the burgeoning sport has the league expanding to 15 teams this fall and competing as one division.
Last season, Blue Ridge won the Division I championship in a playoff game against North Pocono. Western Wayne won the Division I title two years ago. Each team will play only once this season due to the addition of Scranton, West Scranton, Valley View, and Mid Valley.
Libby Zick, the 2022 Times-Tribune Player of the Year, leads Blue Ridge, which does have a lot of firepower to replace in the starting lineup.
Zick is coming off a record-setting year as the team's setter. She had 610 assists, including the 1,000th of her career, 286 serving points, including a perfect 24-point set against Elk Lake, 111 aces, and 136 digs while leading the Lady Raiders to the division title and a ninth straight District 2 Class 1A championship.
"I played a lot this summer and played club last winter," Zick said. "There have been a lot of emotions for both me and my mom with this being my senior year. I am always working to step up to another level, improve, and help my team as much as I can to win matches."
In addition to Zick, Blue Ridge returns five players who saw valuable time last season.
Kaelynn Brant had 125 kills and 148 serving points last season and has 248 kills and 290 serving points in her career. Leigha McCain had 48 kills and 109 digs last season; Ella Woosman added 66 serving points; Kelsi Howe contributed 32 kills; and Emma Button had 180 digs last season.
"We have new players stepping up, and I am encouraging them and always staying positive," Zick said. "It is going to be different playing everyone only once this season. That raises the stakes much more. Each game is much more important. There are a lot of new teams this year, so it is going to be interesting and exciting."
North Pocono returns five starters, including outside hitter Mia Summa and setter Soyer DeLucy, who were both Lackawanna League Division I all-stars last season.
Autumn Koch, Lauren Clarke, and Mariah Wolff are also back for the Lady Trojans.
"We are really excited," Summa said. "We can't wait to get started. We have worked very hard this offseason to get better. We lost some really good players, so the big thing for us is communication. It is a new year, and we are going to try to start out with a bang."
With the new schedule format, the Blue Ridge at North Pocono season opener on Tuesday night at 6 is very important. Last season, the teams split the regular-season matches, and Blue Ridge earned the championship in a playoff.
"That is going to be intense," Summa said. "We are ready. They have a great setter in Libby Zick, and we know what we have to bring. We have to play our best game."
Western Wayne has six starters back, including sophomore standout middle Lauren Beamer, who is 6-foot-1 and had 115 kills last season.
Taylor Maiocco led the team with 163 serving points, and Raegan Palmer, an honorable mention all-star, was second with 156. Maddie Stiffler contributed 72 digs, Allie Pauler had 66, and Emily Romanowski returns after missing last season with an injury.
Dunmore returns seven players who had varsity experience last season. Senior libero Sienna Delfino, who contributed 147 digs, and senior setter Allie Dempsey, who had 268 assists, were honorable mention Division I all-stars last season.
Middle hitter Amanda Dempsey, who had 82 kills last season, outside hitter Leena Conte, who had 50 kills, outside hitter Abbey Earley, who had 40 kills, and middle hitter Sadie Ondek and outside hitter Lauren Henry are also back for the Lady Bucks.
Lackawanna Trail won the Division II championship last season and reached the District 2 Class 1A final.
The Lady Lions are under the guidance of new coach Scott Wert, who takes over for Kristen Kurpis, who was last year's Times-Tribune Coach of the Year. Senior outside hitter Gretchen Rejrat is a returning All-Region player and the Division II player of the year. She had 45 digs, 20 blocks, and 15 aces.
Mountain View is also expected to contend with the return of setter Rachael Evans, middle hitter Addison Kilmer, who was an honorable mention all-star last season and an all-state basketball player, Ryleigh Kilmer, and Christina Denney.
Delaware Valley is coming off a season where it won a 13th straight District 2 Class 4A championship and finished 13-1 and in second place in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
This season however, could be a rebuilding one for the Lady Warriors.
They return only one starter from last season. Senior outside hitter Katharine Quinn, who had 105 kills and 19 blocks.
Setter Samantha Monroe, who had 56 serving points, libero Audrianna Smith, Celina Koh and Shealey Hughes all had varsity experience during the championship season.
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