Coach: Brian Welsch, third season
Last season: 4-29, 0-6 Area 5-7A
Key returners: DS Ashley Olsen, Sr.; RS ReesAnne Gentry, Sr.; MB Anna Medrano, Sr.; OH Emma Harding, Jr.
Key newcomers: S Emma Kiser, Fr.
Outlook: The Bulldogs settled into the bottom of the Area 5-7A standings last season, head coach Brian Welsch’s second with the program. Much like Central football coach Frank Hepler, though, Welsch looks to off-court markers as evidence of the team’s progress. He said there has been more attendance at optional workouts and “major intensity” during practice.
“This year we expect to see some major evidence of the hard work we have been putting in, specifically on the scoreboard,” Welsch said.
Coach: Jaime Maxey, first season
Last season: N/A
Key returners: N/A
Key newcomers: OH/S Daniela Rios, So.; OH Madhumintha Senthil, Jr.; MB Olivia Woodard, So.; S Caroline Hare, So.
Outlook: The Danes, like basically every team in the school’s inaugural year, are short on varsity experience. But the schools Denmark is drawing from have strong programs and recent track records, and the Danes have a proven head coach in Jaime Maxey, who took Chattahoochee to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season, losing to eventual state champion Harrison.
Coach: Missey Hall, seventh season
Last season: 29-12, 6-1 in Area 5-7A; lost in quarterfinals of Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: OH/S Ally Hall, Jr.; OH/S Bella Tolone, So.; MB Claire Richey, Sr.; S Lael White, Sr.; OH/RS Ashley Hills, Jr.; RS Haley Horton, Sr.; OH/MB Carley Tootle, Jr.; L/DS Miranda Hardin, So.
Key newcomers: L/DS Megan Martin, So.; MB Nidhisha Kancharla, Jr.
Outlook: The Longhorns are on the young side, but that doesn’t preclude excitement at their returning talent. Two of their top returners, Ally Hall and Bella Tolone, are underclassmen, and with setter Lael White and right side Haley Horton returning as seniors, Lambert looks to have some of the best offensive potential in the area. The Longhorns’ players haven’t seen a significant drop-off from last year’s state quarterfinalist team, even with the graduation of All-FCN players like Madeleine Bertz and Amanda Sinning.
Coach: Kelly Wren, 11th season
Last season: 17-25, 3-3 in Area 5-7A; lost in quarterfinals of Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: OH Molly Bergin, Sr.; S Nyah Pacely, Jr.; OH Sydney Forrest, Sr.; L Samantha Macaluso, So.; OH Avery Svehla, So.; MB Olivia Grady, Jr.; MB Taylor Caldwell, Sr.
Outlook: South’s trajectory last season was one of the best indications of the quality of volleyball in north metro: The War Eagles had an unremarkable regular season, with their record slipping into losing territory by the end of the Area 5-7A tournament, but they then proceeded to sweep Norcross and Grayson in straight sets to advance to the state quarterfinals again. South looks poised for a quick rebound this year, with all four of the freshmen on last year’s team coming back and older players like Nyah Pacely and Molly Bergin already having proven their productiveness.
Coach: Meg Bohn, fifth season
Last season: 5-22, 0-8 in Area 6-A
Key returners: OH Annie Irlbeck, Sr.; MH Lauren Rice, Sr.; OH Anne Marie Doxtader, Sr.
Outlook: The Paladins are resetting, again, with their third coach in three years after Geno Acevedo after one season with the program. The new name isn’t an entirely new one, though: Meg Bohn coached the team for four seasons in the past, resigning in 2015. Pinecrest is short on age and experience, but Bohn spoke positively about the freshman class and mentioned that the Paladins’ group of seniors know each other well, having played together for seven years.
Coaches: Drew and Kelly Cecil, third season at North
Last season: 39-10, 6-1 in Area 5-7A; lost in quarterfinals of Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: OH Mary Ellen Enright, Sr.; OH/MB Kate Perryman, So.; S Anna Grace Cheatham, Jr.; DS/OH Reagan Mercado, Jr.
Key newcomers: RS/S Maddie Vincent, Jr.; MB Kylie Hernandez, Jr.; DS Alexis Roberts, Jr.; MB Halle Vercek, So.; L Alyssa Maxwell, So.; DS/OH Haylie Selzer, So.; RS/MB Mallory Butcher, Fr.; RS/S Samantha Mehler, Fr.
Outlook: The Raiders were bullish on last year’s squad in the second year of the Cecil coaching duo’s tenure, and their intuition proved correct: North its best season ever, reaching the state quarterfinals. Now, with numerous important seniors from that team gone, the Raiders are hoping they’re in for more of a reload than a rebuild.
The combination between setter Logan Taft and outside hitter Maddie Bryant gave the Raiders a lethal offensive combination last year, and Mary Ellen Enright and Anna Grace Cheatham could come close to replicating that. Kate Perryman, with just one season of varsity experience, is one of the most athletic and highest-potential athletes in the county. A particularly large group of underclassmen brings its own challenges, but the Cecils have no complaints with the newcomers’ attitudes and are confident that simply playing more together will give way to significant improvement.
Coach: Jake Dickey, sixth season
Last season: 16-28, 4-3 in Area 5-7A; lost in first round of the Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: OPP Annie Veldhuis, Sr.; OH Olivia Dodd, Sr.; MH Brooklyn Clayton, Sr.; S Olivia Mooney, Sr.; OH Kamryn Wagner, Jr.; DS Katie Craze, Sr.; MH Abby Kingsbury, So.; OH Kayla Goetzman, Jr.
Key newcomers: RS/S Carra Sassack, Fr.; DS Madi Dunlop, Jr.; DS Skylar James, So.; DS Rachel Denard, So.
Outlook: West hasn’t traditionally been an outsider in the county’s volleyball scene, but last year, with the resurgence of North and the expected competitiveness of Lambert and South, the Wolverines were easier to forget. That was due in part to having a roster composed largely of underclassmen, though, and with those players coming back, head coach Jake Dickey thinks this year’s team could be one of the best in West’s history. Annie Veldhuis is a top-quality offensive player, and she’s surrounded by seniors like Olivia Dodd, Brooklyn Clayton and Olivia Mooney. Carra Sassack could also be the next impact freshman in a region with a strong recent history of those. The biggest worry Dickey has is just whether the Wolverines can stay fully healthy.