Will there be another storybook finish at Plymouth Whitemarsh?
Will Upper Merion meet its lofty preseason expectations?
Can Abington take a strong team full of experienced players deep into the playoffs?
These questions, and others, are about to be answered as the 2017 scholastic volleyball season began this weekend.
Many eyes will be pointed eastward, where Abington returns four solid veterans, including star Hannah Dalton, and to the west, where Gwynedd Mercy looks to repeat its District One AAA championship. How will it all turn out?
Let’s gaze into our crystal ball (In alphabetical order):
Coach: Jea Lee.
Last Year: 10-9 (lost in opening round of District One playoffs).
Key Losses: Kaylee Goodson.
Key Returnees: Hannah Dalton; Grace Whitney; Kaley Ehnow; Fabi Gonzalez; Anna Bantner.
Outlook: The Ghosts had a quick exit from last year’s district playoffs, but return the bulk of that semi-successful team.
Dalton is a bonafide star, while Whitney, Ehnow, Gonzalez and Bantner have all been through the heat of the playoff wars.
Prediction:: The Ghosts will be in the SOL Continental title chase, although they’ll have to get past Plymouth Whitemarsh and Hatboro-Horsham to make any kind of postseason noise.
Coach: Maureen Riley-Thorpe.
Last Year: 10-7 (3-2 Philadelphia Catholic League).
Key Losses: Noelle Sheridan.
Key Returnees: Shauna Matthews; Molly Prior.
Outlook: The Vikings will have to unseat Archbishop Carroll if they want to be considered a force. And while that’s unlikely this year, the Vikes should still be in the playoff hunt.
Matthews and Prior are solid players around which to build a team, but the Vikings are going to need a little more oomph to unseat the Patriots.
Prediction:: Wood will be improved, but still are a year or two away from being a bona fide PCL contender.
Coach: Ryan Genova.
Last Year: 2-18.
Key Losses: Clare Maus; Aine Dougherty; Mia Leonard.
Key Returnees: Megan Dougherty; Najeh Edens; Mackenna Doud; Melanie Gottleib; Mary Hoffman.
Outlook: The Panthers had a dreadful season a year ago, and don’t seem likely to do much but tread water this year as well.
Returnee Megan Dougherty was an All-Suburban One choice a season ago, but her supporting cast this year is young and probably a year or two away.
Prediction:: The Panthers will be marginally better, but not nearly ready to contend in the loaded SOL Continental.
Coach: Dan Sullivan.
Last Year: 16-4 (PAISAA finalists).
Key Losses: Emma Rapp; Kate Weiss; Carly Shimote; Abby Starzecky; Alana Schumann.
Key Returnees: Cat Polisano; Jenna Schumann; Alison Weber; Shannon Topley.
Outlook: The Patriots still have enough back from last year’s PAISAA finals squad to make some noise.
Sullivan will have his hands full getting the team back to that level, but GA has enough drive to get back at least close to the Promised Land.
Prediction:: The Patriots may not get back to the PAISAA finals, but they won’t be roadkill either.
Coach: Mike Nguyen.
Last Year: 21-8 (District One AAA champions).
Key Losses: Abigail Kress; Gabriella DeLuca; Lauren Holland; Gabrielle Greene.
Key Returnees: Lizzy Ferguson; Grace Cassady; Grace Van Thyne; Sarah Holland.
Outlook: The returning District One AAA champs lost more than their share of key players from last year’s team, but just may have enough back to make another district run.
Ferguson anchors a strong group of returnees who have enough moxie and experience to, at least, be in the conversation when the subject of the district playoffs comes up.
Prediction:: The Monarchs may need a bit more seasoning to return to the District One winners’ circle.
Coach: Jonathan Young.
Last Year: 20-5 (lost in District One playoff quarterfinals)
Key Losses: Holly Owen (All-District One second team); Allison Laucella (86.6 serve percentage); Victoria Rapak.
Key Returnees: Katerina Yankanich; Rachel Dittus; Maddie Kallmeyer; Mary Kate Scully.
Outlook: The Hatters seem to have enough talent coming back this year to make some noise in the SOL Continental. The likes of Owen, Laucella and Rapak will be difficult to replace, but Yankanich is a rising star, and Dittus and Kallmeyer, along with sophomore Scully are capable of lifting the team back into district and possible state contention.
Prediction:: The Hatters will make districts again, but states might be a reach.
Coach: Katrina Pisch-Koffel.
Last Year: 6-12-1.
Key Losses: Ego Onu (Pitt); Cait Maskornick; Colleen McFadden.
Key Returnees: Emily Freer: Dana Senour; Katie Braun; Rebecca Murgia; Corinne Coonahan.
Outlook: The Crusaders are attempting to bounce back from a rare bad year, and could pull it off, even though their losses, most notably, Onu, will be hard to replace.
Prediction:: The Crusaders will fit comfortably into the PCL ranks, and hopefully catch fire at the right time of the season.
Coach: Shane Manser.
Last Year: 14-10.
Key Losses: Ashley Newman (Rutgers-Camden).
Key Returnees: Emma Eglinton; Carli Ginther; Nicole Cooper; Gianna Santangelo; Laura Strailey; Andrea Castaneda.
Outlook: The Warriors get better and better with each successive season in the PAC. This year, while Pope John Paul II has to be the favorite once again, Methacton will likely improve its regular-season position. A playoff run is possible, but not a lock.
Prediction:: A good, but not great, season is possible. The Warriors surprised last year with a first-round district playoff win, so more is expected this season.
Coach: Brian Yost.
Last Year: 11-11.
Key Losses: Victoria Smith; Allison Elechko.
Key Returnees: Jessica Thompson; Alycia Powers
Outlook: The Knights look to contend in the SOL Continental, and the pressure is on. With the growing success of the North Penn athletics programs in general, the pressure in on the Knights to keep pace.
Coach: Brandon Johnson.
Last Year: 8-13.
Key Losses: Steph Judkins (Cabrini); Madelyn Moser (Bryn Athyn); Caitlin Saalfrank (Gwynedd Mercy University).
Key Returnees: Cecily Coffman; Ally Scarborough; Jess Kalams; Emma Tirjan.
Outlook: The Rams seem to have enough firepower to improve over last year’s disappointing finish, but might find the going tough in the SOL Continental.
Prediction:: A better, but not necessarily a successful season.
Coach: Seely Byer.
Last Year: 26-2.
Key Losses: Olivia Carbo; Lauren Coscia; Danielle Rippert.
Key Returnees: Bridget McTamney; Lily Acquaviva; Taylor O’Brien; Emilee Waltz.
Outlook: Can the Colonials climb back onto the state bandwagon? It seems unlikely on the surface, but there was a lot of untapped talent on the bench a season ago that will be tapped this year.
Prediction:: The Colonials will be in the thick of the SOL championship hunt, but may have to wait another season to be relevant again.
Coach: Dave Childs.
Last Year: 13-8.
Key Losses: Miranda Baronett.
Key Returnees: Tori Reiner; Talia Watson; Haley Novak; Hannah Fairweather.
Outlook: The Indians seem to have enough quality players returning to make a run in the SOL and reach the district tournament again.
Prediction:: The Indians seem primed to take another step in the postseason, although how far will depend on a number of factors, including health and desire.
Coach: Paul Choi.
Last Year: 15-7.
Key Losses: Jenny McAneney; Josie Barrett.
Key Returnees: Bryn Stek.
Outlook: The Cardinals had a solid 2016 season, running out of steam in the district playoffs, and look primed to return with a younger, perhaps more talented, team.
The key will the rate of maturity and perhaps the slippage of a few of the established SOL Continental squads.
Prediction:: State playoffs would be a reach, but a district berth, and perhaps a few district wins, are possible.
Coach: Tony Funsten.
Last Year: 20-8.
Key Losses: None.
Key Returnees: Emma Andraka; Kelly Moore; Tori Wright.
Outlook: Funsten is very optimistic the Vikings will return to form, although, as he pointed out, the season the Vikings enjoyed last year would have been a phenomenal year for most programs, The Vikings will return to old form, although that may or may not be good enough to unseat PJP in the PAC.
Prediction:: Upper Merion will make a long run deep into the district/state playoffs.
Coach: Brian Bassler.
Last Year: 11-10.
Key Losses: Laura Cochrane; Lindsey Snock.
Key Returnees: Steph Woolston; Nicole Long.
Outlook: The Panthers look primed to make some noise. Whether or not that noise is enough to land in the playoffs and beyond is the big question.
Prediction:: The Panthers roar into the playoffs. How long they’ll last is open to debate.
Coach: Daniel Halstead.
Last Year: 2-17.
Key Losses: Isabella Kim; Sierra Dietrick.
Key Returnees: Abigail Cutler; Lena Hallstrom; Autumn Jerman; Gwen Valvona.
Outlook: Coming off a two-win season, the Trojans are looking to improve, and will do so with a roster that contains nary a senior.
Prediction:: The Trojans will improve, but more importantly will hopefully lay the groundwork for success in the future.