As the Interhigh volleyball season gets under way this week, league coaches are once again picking Wilson to win the championship. The Tigers, however, will have to overcome a number of obstacles to make those predictions come true.

The Tigers have dominated city play in recent years, but could manage only a three-way tie for regular-season honors a year ago. However, Wilson did come back to win the tournament title.

Tigers Coach Eileen Covington is entering this season worried. She must find replacements for her three top players from last year. Two-time All-Met Phan Luong and starter Mei Li are ineligible this fall because they are 19 years old, too old for competition under D.C. Public School rules. Another starter, Mercedes Turner, has moved out of the area.

"We will be struggling," said Covington, who has Christina Chan, Joyce Davis and Lourdes Martins returning. Newcomers include Macecilia Bordajo, Slyvie Mando and Karen Owens.

Another factor challenging Wilson's domination of Interhigh volleyball is apparent improved skills around the league. For years, Wilson had the better skilled players because many of them took the game seriously enough to play year-round.

But with the success of the U.S. Olympic team, the game's increasing exposure on television, clinics and volleyball camps, the interest in the Interhigh has grown.

"I think the level of volleyball has gotten better," said Anacostia Coach Thomas Hargrove.

If Wilson falters, Spingarn may be the team to dethrone the Tigers. Coach Maggie Whitfield has Loraine Blackman, Millicent Johnson and Valencia Maddox returning.

"I expect them to be one of the playoff teams," Whitfield said. "They are jelling right now."

Dunbar also could vie for the championship. Coach Elaine Matthews has depth following projected starters Angelique Brown, Catrina Hammond, Galenetta Lee and Angela Jones. Top backups are Tenom Davis, Michelle Johnson and Francis Johnson.

"I should have a lot of experience out there," Matthews said. "Last year, we walked away with nothing, but we have to put that behind us."

Cardozo, which finished 6-5 in its second season of volleyball last year, will have Cheryl Magnus and Dionne Peters returning.

Ballou finished last a year ago, but Coach Edith Shepard expects the Knights to improve. The Knights were forced to practice at Hart Junior High and play their games on the road due to repairs to their school's gym floor.

Shepard will have her top player, Jannese Ashton, returning along with LaJuan Best, Tangie Cheek, Carla Davis, Jacqueline Davis, Tanya Dorsey, Mayuree Flanigan (a native of Taiwan) and Tiann Monroe returning.

New players include Yolanda Burke, Deveta Degree, Tonya Early, Monique Stevenson and Yolanda Stardford.

Alvita Perry, Carla Terry and Nicole Schuler are returning for Anacostia. The top newcomers are Crystal Kearney, LaShawn Moore, Wanda Jackson and Natrina Wilcox.

"This is probably the best group of young ladies {in terms of skill} I have had," Hargrove said.

Eastern hopes to rebound from its worst season ever (4-6). Coach Barbara Giles will build her team around returners Cheryl Monroe and Shirley Tyree and newcomer Kenya Stewart.

Coolidge's top player will be Laveeda Wells.