PERRYVILLE — As Jordan Carr and Gracey Stevens go, so goes the Perryville volleyball team.
With the two All-County athletes returning for their senior seasons as team captains, County Coach of the Year Matt Borrelli is confident their leadership on and off the floor with help the Panthers make yet another deep run in the class 1A playoffs.
“We’re going to lean heavily on Jordan and Gracey because we have a lot of inexperience on varsity this year,” he explains. “We’re pretty young so there might be some bumps in the road.”
Carr will be Borrelli’s game manager while Stevens will be tasked with setting up the offense for the Panthers.
“They’re such great players not just physically but strategically,” he explains. “They’re not only great players and leaders on the floor, but they’re very smart in helping me explain and demonstrate things to the younger players on the team.”
Even with the relative lack of match experience across the roster, Borrelli expects the Panthers, 1A state semifinalists a year ago, to be close to the same position this fall.
“Our expectation is to win the regional championship and we should be able to make it,” he said, noting that four of his players do have extensive club volleyball experience, which goes a long way in preparing for a varsity season. “It won’t be as pretty and polished as in previous years, but I do expect us to win the region and be back in the semifinals again.”
Wilson enters 20th year on sideline
NORTH EAST — Heading into his 20th season as the Tigers’ volleyball coach, Rich Wilson’s goals have not changed.
“I tell my players at the beginning of every year that my plan is to be coaching on the last day of the season,” Wilson says of the 2A State volleyball championship, which Rising Sun last claimed in 2016. “Winning the UCBAC is nice, but it really doesn’t fit in with our goals. We train and teach with the state semifinals and finals in mind.”
With a strong returning group of players, including All-County Player of the Year Emily Jackson leading the way, there’s reason to believe Rising Sun could very well be at College Park in November. Joining Jackson are All-County outside hitters Sophia Eckerd and Lauren Hudson and opposites Rachel Cohen, Kendall Lammers and Taylor Mantyk.
“We are going to need strong leadership from that core group and so far we’ve gotten it,” Wilson says. “The great thing about this team is that while they go out and compete every day, they do it in harmony. Much better to play as a team that likes each other than a team that doesn’t.”
Even a team as complete as Rising Sun has concerns – depth and experience will be one as six sophomores make the move up to varsity this season. Also MPSSAA’s new tournament format, featuring re-seeding after each round, could throw things slightly off course. Still, Wilson believes that his returners and the standard the program has set will be good enough for another deep playoff run.
“Emily Jackson came up as a freshman in 2016, Lauren Hudson came up early and those players demonstrate the culture – it doesn’t have to be me on the sidelines preaching about it,” Wilson explains.
“When the younger players see that, they’re able to grasp it. I look for us to compete again this year.”
Eagles poised to take next step
CHESAPEAKE CITY — As far as rebuilding years go, 2018 exceeded Bohemia Manor head coach Sabrina Larmer’s wildest expectations.
After graduating nine seniors from the 2017 Eagles and only returning two players, Bo Manor finished the season with a winning record (9-7) before falling to county rival Perryville in the 1A East quarterfinals. With the hard part of rebuilding behind her team, Larmer, in her eighth season in charge, is hopeful the Eagles can take the next step.
“We don’t want to settle for being mediocre,” she says. “We want to keep improving on what we did last year. Starting from scratch to finish fourth in our conference was pretty good, so we’re ready to step up.”
Leading the charge for the Eagles include the returning group of libero Lexie Bolton, setter Lexi Bailey and hitters Carlee Ferguson and Taylor Wright. Larmer will be counting on those four players to lead Bo Manor into battle and says they’ve embraced the challenge.
“They definitely have stepped up and been more vocal with helping the freshmen and newcomers,” Larmer says. “They’ve also done a great job of leading by example.”
As the Bo Manor rebuild continues, Larmer’s main goal is simply improvement.
“We want to push further into the playoffs,” she stated. “We want to be better and do better than we did last year.”
Elks hope for similar success
ELKTON — Losing six seniors (five starters) from a 12-win team would give most volleyball coaches cause for concern.
However, veteran Elkton coach Amy Sexton feels that the players that will take the court for the Golden Elks this year will compare favorably.
“I have a lot of athletes whose first sport isn’t volleyball, but they are a hard-working group of girls,” Sexton says. “When they’re in the gym, practice or game, they’re always focused on volleyball.”
Moving on from last year’s team were All-County honorable mention players Courtney Hardy and Destiny Peterson, while leading the group of returners for Sexton are Olivia Wheel and Molly Camphausen. In addition, several players moving up from junior varsity are expected to contribute.
“We’re looking for improvement as the season goes along,” Sexton said. “We’re looking for the girls to work hard and play well together and I think that’s what they’ll do.”
Sexton believes a future run of success for Elkton will come with players taking on more of an out-of-season workload.
“We’ll need some girls to play club volleyball and attend some camps during the summer,” she says. “The girls that are coming in and that have been here do have a winning mentality, so I do expect us to be successful.”
Indians’ O’Brien takes over alma mater
Hannah O’Brien remembers very well when North East volleyball was a regular UCBAC Chesapeake Division contender, playing on a state semifinal team in 2007, a year after the Indians won the 2A state championship.
Now in her first season as head coach at her alma mater, she looks to revive the program and return the Indians, 3-10 a year ago, to their glory days.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity,” says O’Brien, who played from 2007-2010 at North East. “I think playing in the program when it was at its height and showing these girls they have the potential to match that, I think it’s going to serve us well.”
Helping O’Brien out will be a solid returning group of veteran players, including senior libero/co-captain Kyala Barrett, fellow senior captain Natalie Wroten, junior Navaeh Tormohlen and senior setter/middle hitter Elena Owens.
“The girls are quick to pick up things and are great leaders on and off the court,” O’Brien says. “They’ve worked well together already and with me coming in with some new ideas and suggestions, they’ve been very receptive to that.”
O’Brien also is working to build confidence, and with a county full of rivals and a conference full of tough teams, an improved attitude could carry North East a long way.
“I want them to feel that they can come back from anything,” she says. “Last year was a rough year for the team, but I think they’re ready for a change. Part of that is getting back up and coming back when you’ve been knocked down and I think they can do it.”