Calvert County, the volleyball hotbed of Maryland, has a new player -- Huntingtown High School.

Does that now mean the county that has spawned a state champion in each of the past 10 seasons could take top billing this year in three different classifications -- defending Maryland 3A champion Calvert, which is now in 2A; Northern or Huntingtown in 3A; and Patuxent in 4A?

"It's great that we're representing three different regions," Patuxent Coach Erica Weems said. "We used to just bump each other out" in the playoffs.

Or does it mean the county's talent is just diluted (at least temporarily, until each school can replenish its departed depth), giving the rest of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference its best chance to overtake a county that has had a team play for a state title 13 out of the last 14 seasons?

"All the girls on [my] team are looking forward to playing Calvert [County] schools for that reason," new McDonough Coach Sheri Cummings said. "We're hoping we could give them more of a game this year."

Calvert returns junior All-Extra middle hitter Whitney Johnson, along with two seniors, outside hitter Jordan Ritchie and defensive specialist Kristina Shannon, who played important roles for last year's state champion. But the Cavaliers need to find a setter to take over for the graduated Jessica Forsythe.

New Northern Coach Linda Curry had to move up last year's entire junior varsity team to replace the seven players who graduated. Fortunately for the Patriots, sophomore setter Amy Schreiber returns, and she also might play a bit on the outside. Seniors Sara Padgett and Stephanie Randolph are the other holdovers from last season.

Patuxent is also struggling with its depth. It lost senior hitter Kristyn Jeschelnik to Huntingtown, and Amy Griffin did not return for her fourth varsity season so she could concentrate on academics. Look for junior setter Christy Redgate and senior Nicole Post on the back row to step up.

Huntingtown is made up of eight transfers from Calvert, two from Northern and one from Patuxent. Hurricanes Coach Cheryl Lord has worked with 10 of those players in the Southern Maryland Juniors program, including senior Allison Miller and sophomore Lauren Fowler.

No Charles County program had a turnout like Lackey, which had 38 players try out. Leading the dozen who remained on varsity will be senior setter Nikki Rieman and junior outside hitter Cari Brezina.

La Plata seniors Shawna Giles and Stephanie Fowler are in their third varsity seasons with the Warriors, who are one of the SMAC's more experienced teams.

McDonough should be very tough at the net because senior hitters Tenay Gaddy, Lyndsay Sager and Vanessa Thompson are part of a roster that, except for one player, is at least 5-foot-7.

Last season, Leonardtown Coach Shirley Geisbert put seven sophomores on varsity, building toward this year. Setter Becky Peters and middle hitter Becca Steinbach lead that group.

Jim Johnson has coached wrestling, soccer and field hockey since Westlake opened in 1994. This season, he is trying volleyball after Jamie Hardwick's pregnancy took her off the court. Senior setter Elizabeth Coe is the Wolverines' lone returning starter.

Jennifer Toole, who played on Great Mills's last regional champion in 1989, returns to coaching the Hornets after stepping aside after 2000. She's going to look to sophomore Tanee Holly and senior hitter Ashley Hopkins, a four-year player.

Thomas Stone graduated no players last year, so the Cougars return seniors Kandace Pickeral and Amy Bilmanis. Renee Sirk is Chopticon's fourth coach in five seasons.

Calvert's Whitney Johnson, center, and Northern's Amy Schreiber, right, are two of the top returning players in Calvert County this season.