In 11th Region volleyball, exceptional teams come and go.
But the exceptional programs consistently have been at Henry Clay and Lafayette.
The Lady Devils and Lady Generals have won a combined five of the last eight region titles. No other team has won more than one.
Paul Dunbar would like to change that by winning its second straight region title and advancing to the state tournament again this season.
The Lady Bulldogs, who return their leaders in kills (Madison Hatcher), blocks (Brianna Hill), assists (Stefani Cleaver) and digs (Kelly Cole), know they will have to beat plenty of top-level competition this season to make a return trip.
"Lexington volleyball all around is probably at one of its best years," Coach Jenni Morgan said. "Everybody is up this year."
The coaches' pre-season poll still is dominated by private schools and schools from the Louisville and Northern Kentucky areas, but Lexington is making headway.
This area has three teams in the top 20 and two teams in the top 11 in No. 10 Dunbar and No. 11 Henry Clay. Lafayette comes in at No. 20.
The top five are top-ranked Sacred Heart, No. 2 Assumption, defending state champion No. 3 Mercy, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Manual.
Lafayette Coach Chris Langston expects that Lexington will continue to make strides thanks to a strong middle-school feeder program.
He argued that any of the four teams in the 41st District — Lafayette, Henry Clay, Dunbar or Tates Creek — could take home the title.
He likes his core group of returnees, which includes seniors Emily Anderson and Mackenzie Burke as well as kills and blocks leader Cat Starr.
"From now on, it's just going to be a dogfight every year just to get to the region," Langston said. "As much talent as there is, it's just going to be who gets along the best come October.
"Dunbar's got an advantage because they've already been there, but everybody's just as talented. It's just a matter of who's getting along and playing together as a team."
Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe, who says he has perhaps his most athletic hitting team behind stars like Shelley Besten and Mikayla Reese, agreed that the four teams in the 41st look like the teams to beat.
"We all feel good about our teams for good reason," he said. "I do think all the teams look good, but I really like our team this year."
So do other coaches who aren't in the 41st District, like Lexington Catholic's Mark McCloskey. He said he has the strongest team in school history.
McCloskey says the region could turn out to be wide open.
"There's not a whole lot of difference between the teams," he said. "Between Lafayette, Dunbar, Henry Clay and Catholic, there's not a whole lot of difference separating those four schools. It's going to be interesting come the end."