After collecting four straight GAC South championships, the Francis Howell Central Lady Spartans volleyball team is firmly established as the dominant program in St. Charles County.
Even in years when they weren’t supposed to be the league’s best, Howell Central managed to somehow rise to the top of the standings and dominate the GAC South. Last year the Lady Spartans went undefeated in the conference and were 26-7 overall before losing in the district semifinals.
“It was kind of a surprise last year,” Howell Central head coach Mark McAfee said. “We didn’t expect to be that good last year. You have to give all the credit to the team. The girls did an admirable job of making sure we always played our best.”
The Lady Spartans won their first eight games of 2010, then had separate nine-game and six-game winning streaks before a particularly rough weekend in Quincy, IL, ruined the luster of what had the makings of becoming a pretty special season for Howell Central.
“I was really proud of that group we had last year,” McAfee said. “This year, we have the potential to be the same kind of team.”
Indeed they do, and they can start with the return of all-conference outside hitters Mallory Dillon and Sydney Miller.
Dillon, a junior, might be the best hitter in the conference. She certainly looked the part last year when she led the league in kills with 309 and ranked near the top of the league in hit percentage.
Miller also had a fine year, finishing third on the team with 117 kills.
On the backline, Howell Central will be led by returning libero Caitlin Geringer, who led the Lady Spartans with 439 digs last year.
Geringer will be joined by a slew of other talented defensive specialists, including Bridget Laughlin, Jenna Rekosh, Jeannette Konst, and Jenna Wade.
The only question mark left for Howell Central this season, is who will win the new starting setter job.
The top two candidates for the position are senior Kayla Allsman and junior Mary Emory.
No matter which of them earns the gig, it’ll be difficult for them to replace the production Howell Central got from the setter position last year, when then-senior Maggie Mueller was second in the GAC South with 633 assists.
“We’ve got a lot of question marks because of that one position,” McAfee said. “We’ve got good hitters, and we’ve got a good backline, but how good they’ll all be kinda depends on how good a job our setters do.”
Most experts consider Francis Howell High to be the favorite going into the season, but McAfee would rather wait until the games start being played before he anoints anyone the champion.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” McAfee said. “Nobody expected us to win last year. But we played an outstanding match against (2010 favorite) Howell last year in our gym and it propelled us to the championship. There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen again.”
The Lady Spartans are set to begin defense of their league championship on at 5 p.m. on Monday, August 29, when they’ll travel to Hazelwood to take on Hazelwood West High.
Howell Central’s first home game is slated for 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 8, when the Lady Spartans will host St. Charles West High.