A look at 5A/4A volleyball teams in the Pikes Peak region
5A COLORADO SPRINGS METRO
Coach: Tara Hittle
Last season: 29-0
Key returners: Haleigh Washington, sr.; Gabby Simpson, sr.
Outlook: Is there an encore for a 29-0 season in which the Spartans lost only eight games and rolled to a 5A state championship? They'll certainly give it their best shot with Penn State commit Washington, last season's Gatorade Player of the Year for Colorado, along with Simpson, an all-Metro League setter and Colorado State commit.
Coach: Lindsay Hicks
Last season: 10-15
Key returners: Kylie Camacho, sr.; Haley Cuppett, jr.; Jenna McGuire, so.
Outlook: Hicks enters her first year at Liberty, inheriting a promising squad with seven seniors and an infusion of new talent. Cuppett and McGuire give the Lancers stability at outside hitter, while Hicks expects newcomer Dylann Bylund to make an impact at setter. With no player taller than 5-foot-11, size could be a weakness.
Coach: Sergio Rangel
Last season: 11-12
Key returners: Sydney Vrecenar, sr.; Kristen Moore, sr.; Layne Hoke, sr.
Outlook: Rangel enters his fourth season with the Terrors as his first players reach their senior seasons. Palmer made a five-game improvement last season, and Rangel harbors hopes of further improvement. Hoke, a junior co-captain at libero last season, led Palmer with 59 service points to go with 14 digs per match.
Coach: Paul Waring
Last season: 17-8
Key returners: McKenzie Swan, sr.; Taylor Cross, sr.
Outlook: Waring returns to the Pine Creek bench after previously leading the Eagles from 2003-08. He inherits a team that went 17-8 and played into November before falling at regionals. Cross, who last season made a verbal commitment to New Mexico, was a force on the back row, averaging 12.3 digs, while Swan chalked up a team-high 221 kills.
Coach: Nancy Pellow
Last season: 15-10
Key returners: Amanda Cushen, jr.; August Raskie, jr.; Holly Brennan, jr.; Janice Jin, jr.; McKenna Thornlow, sr.
Outlook: The core of a young, yet experienced, Rams team returns after a third-place finish in the league standings behind Doherty and Pine Creek. Raskie, one of the area's best setters, has already committed to Oregon, while Cushen led the Rams in kills last season with 236. Thornlow is the team's returning starter at libero.
4A COLORADO SPRINGS METRO
Coach: Don Lash
Last season: 24-4
Key returners: Julie Ward, sr.; Annie MacMillan, jr.; Alexia Morey, jr.; Chapel Carter, jr.; Brittany Lesar, sr.; Allie Garcia, so.
Outlook: The Cougars will miss four of their departed seniors from a team that went 51-8 the past two seasons. Still, a talented cast returns for a program seeking its third straight 4A state tournament appearance. Morey led the squad in total blocks last season with 62, while Ward had a team-best 489 digs.
Coach: Francis Calar
Last season: 18-7
Key returners: Tiffani Jackson, sr.; Jordan Hoffman, jr.; Venessa Itugbu, sr.; Shamara Byrd, sr.; Breanna Moorhouse, sr.
Outlook: The Grizzlies, regional finalists the past two seasons, think this might be the year they win that extra match and reach the state tournament for the first time. If they do, they'll have to do it without Jackson, a middle blocker who will miss 2-6 weeks after suffering a sprained ankle last week. Ito Achui, a move-in from Hawaii, figures to make an impact at outside hitter, and multisport athlete Kylee Shook, a sophomore, is expected to have an expanded role as a middle blocker.
Coach: Sharalee Burr
Last season: 7-16
Key returners: Erica Grove, jr.; Keragan Ettleman, sr.; Naomi Abeyta, sr.
Outlook: The Marauders, 3-17 in 2011, had a four-game improvement last season and continued their ascent up the Metro League standings. This season, a trio of experienced veterans will combine with a transfusion from the now-defunct program at Wasson to give Mitchell one of its deepest teams in recent memory.
Coach: Brian Petzold
Last season: 1-20
Key returners: Aliea Adams, jr.; Katherine Rivas, jr.
Outlook: Petzold, a former coach at Arizona Western College, was tabbed to take over a program that won just one match last season. His team will indeed suffer growing pains with just three seniors, but he expects strong leadership from Adams and Rivas.
Coach: Brenda Lough
Last season: 14-9
Key returners: Jasleen Jones, sr.; Meaghan Mahoney, sr.; Bailey Flaten, sr.
Outlook: Lough will lean on defense to lead the Gladiators, who went 14-9 last season. Three seniors return, highlighted by Mahoney, a setter who led the team with 258 assists during the 2012 season.
4A PIKES PEAK
Coach: Shelley Small
Last season: 19-6
Key returners: Jordan Pingel, jr.; Ashley Pagan, so.; Gabby Jones, sr.; Bryce Schwartz, so.; Ashley Nelson, sr.; Claire Kuzara, sr.
Outlook: Small inherits an experienced team ready to further challenge the powers of the PPAC after a third-place league finish behind Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer. Pingel, who verbally committed to Central Florida, led the Kadets in digs and is the team's top returner at outside hitter. Schwartz made a splash as a freshman, accumulating more than 500 assists, while Nelson, a middle blocker, could be in for a breakout season.
Coach: David Barkley
Last season: 25-4
Key returners: Maddie Beal, sr.; Mara Barkley, sr.; Mika Dickson, so.
Outlook: The Indians claimed their fifth consecutive 4A state crown in 2012. The road to a sixth will be difficult after a talented senior class graduated and three returners have been ruled out for the season due to injury. Beal and Barkley team up to become one of the state's best tandem middle blockers. Dickson, a defensive specialist last season, will make the move to libero after junior Courtney Domme suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this summer.
Coach: Melissa Bravo
Last season: 9-13
Key returners: Carina Serratore, sr.; Aly Fry, jr.; Jen Schneible, jr.
Outlook: Bravo guided the Thunder to a 9-13 mark in 2012, a school-best for victories. With three returning starters, Bravo is "expecting great things.". The only thing holding the Thunder back is consistency in a program that continues to build toward the future.
Coach: Brian Hall
Last season: 15-9
Key returners: Megan Orth, so.; Dominique Fisher, jr.; Madison Waldman, jr.; Katie Simmons, sr.
Outlook: Hall gets half of last year's team back, with improvements in ball control, setting and defense his top priorities. Waldman led the Falcons in digs last season with 225, while Fisher and Orth will be asked to grow into increased roles with the graduation of seven seniors hitting the team hard.
Coach: Susan Odenbaugh
Last season: 24-5
Key returners: Alexa Smith, jr.; Abi Bartalo, sr.; Nicole Montgomery, jr.; Tylar Fugate, so.
Outlook: The Rangers reached the 4A title game in 2012, only to be denied by league rival Cheyenne Mountain. In 2013, perhaps no area team is blessed with the depth and versatility than Lewis-Palmer. Smith, an all-state selection, led all of 4A in kills with 489 and added 374 digs, 40 aces and 51 blocks and earned a berth on the USA youth national team. In addition to five returners, the Rangers get Samantha Krainock back after missing 2012 with a knee injury and also got transfers Mariah Evans (CSCS), and Haley and Emily McCurley (Douglas County) to add to the mix.
Coach: Chris Massey
Last season: 3-20
Key returners: Annie Ellis, jr.
Outlook: The strength of the Scorpions is defense. Ellis, a libero, leads the way after averaging 34 digs per game last season.
Coach: Greg Monck
Last season: 4-19
Key returners: None listed
Outlook: The Wolves went 4-19 last season, but Monck, who previously coached the Air Force Academy men's club team, sees a program ripe for success after 54 athletes showed up for tryouts. With five returning seniors and a freshman class that could make an impact right away, Vista Ridge could make noise in the PPAC sooner than later.
4A SOUTH CENTRAL
Coach: Ken Cline
Last season: 14-11
Key returners: Lindsey Schwab, sr.; Nicole Archambeau, jr.
Outlook: The Tigers lost eight players to graduation last season and seven the previous season. Schwab, a first-team all-conference selection in 2012, and Archambeau, both middle blockers, account for most of Canon City's experience on the court. It'll be a work in progress for Cline and the Tigers this season.
No report: Fountain-Fort Carson, Palmer Ridge, Harrison, Woodland Park
Kevin Carmody, The Gazette