Henry Clay was pegged as the city's best team by coaches last season. The Blue Devils couldn't overcome Paul Laurence Dunbar in the first round of the 11th Region Tournament, though.
Dale Grupe's Blue Devils are again thought highly of, ranked fifth statewide behind a quartet of traditional powers Assumption, Notre Dame, Mercy and Sacred Heart.
Henry Clay will meet eight preseason top 25 teams — including county foes Dunbar (No. 7) and Tates Creek (No. 12) — and face stiff out-of-state competition in the regular season.
"We feel confident that if we work hard and play together, we can compete for a state title this season," Grupe said.
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Should the Blue Devils become the first school to bring a state volleyball trophy back to Lexington, it'll need sophomores Sierra Gray, Kaitlyn Hord and Myana Carter to blend with a strong junior contingent of Hallie Shelton, Darby Music, Emma Yarber and Jessica Sunnenberg.
Senior Raven Bartleston, committed to Ohio Dominican, heads a Henry Clay group that seems young on paper, but Grupe said his team has a lot of playing experience to build on.
Dunbar features a group of four seniors — UK commitment Leah Edmond, Xavier commitment Katie Shunk, Keriann Ferguson and Rachel Stevenson — who reached the state semifinals last season. To replicate last year's success the Bulldogs will need juniors Asia Henderson, Fran Macchiavello, Murphy Powell and Amanda Moore to step it up a notch.
"We are a very athletic and versatile team," Coach Jennifer Morgan said of her Bulldogs. They'll also need youngsters like Allie Chapman (sophomore) and Savannah Dudek (sophomore) to play a bigger role this year.
Tates Creek would have represented the 11th Region in the state tournament last season had it overcome Dunbar in the region finals. The Commodores are young this season — they boast just two seniors in Jessie Sandefur and Julia Loveday — but Coach Sara Chaffin is excited about 2015.
"We have a lot of diversity which will keep other teams guessing," Chaffin said of her roster, which includes a fifth-year libero in junior Macy Reihing. Fellow juniors Doris Carter, Lindsey Wilkins and Mary Catherine O'Neil contribute to the Creekers' versatility.
Elsewhere in the city
Lexington Catholic's Ashley Federle said this is the first season that most of her players participated on club teams during the offseason. She expects that to "bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the court" this season.
Reilly Lowe, Julia Hatcher, Audrey Johns and Morgan Justice return for the Knights. Danielle Hendricks is a senior but will make her debut as libero for LexCath.
Only nine players will compete for Lexington Christian's varsity squad this season, giving Coach Teresa Ford little room for bad luck in terms of injury or team chemistry.
Fortunately, the girls on her team — highlighted by returning seniors Jordan Woeste, Meredith Ford and Lauren Elder — are "extremely close" with one another, she said. Ford expects freshman Kaie Weitlauf to bring new energy to the squad.
Chris Langston thinks Lafayette can compete with any public school in the state if his team can develop an offensive rhythm.
"Our defense and serving will keep us in matches," Langston said.
The Generals return a swath of players, among them key seniors Aisha Conwell, Imani Conwell, Bridget Downs, Kelsey Hanley, Allie King and Megan Pauley.
Tyran Chenault, a Jacksonville commitment, tore her anterior cruciate ligament during warmups at the Bluegrass State Games, dealing a huge blow to Bryan Station's 2015 season.
Coach Yvonne Bollmer said underclassmen such as Nytasia McCann will have to play a bigger role alongside older Defenders Jaida Perez, Shelby McLean and Kayla Sheehan.
Sayre's program enters its third year, all under Kim Hils. The Spartans have improved a lot from just three years ago, when three players had minimal volleyball experience and 12 had never played before.
"We have made major improvements and are anticipating a great season," Hils said.
Seniors Nicole Bacha, Eleanor Greer and Madalyne Rice will lead Sayre.