To hear Allison Miller tell it, anyone can take a group of talented volleyball players and start a high school program.
"There's really not anything tough about putting it together," said Miller, a Huntingtown senior middle hitter. "I do think we have a lot of talent, and we're working hard and that's the most important part."
Seven matches into its maiden season, Huntingtown looks like a seasoned program, touting a 6-1 mark, including a 4-0 record in its Southern Maryland Athletic Conference tilts.
Even though Huntingtown's roster contained players from Calvert, Northern and Patuxent, building team chemistry was not a concern; 10 of the 11 Hurricanes knew one another from playing for Cheryl Lord in the same club program -- Southern Maryland Juniors.
The one Hurricane not to play for the SMJs is junior Alex Sita, who plays the critical role of setter. Miller said the Hurricanes used the late start to their season -- Sept. 14, about a week after the rest of the SMAC teams -- as a chance to work on communicating with Sita.
Huntingtown is at its best when it is serving well. The Hurricanes have had a serving success rate of at least 90 percent in every match this season. In their four-game victory over Thomas Stone on Thursday, the Hurricanes missed only five serves.
When Huntingtown hosted Northern on Sept. 30, the Hurricanes won the first game before falling behind, 24-18, in the second. After earning a side-out, Lord said her players' strong serving allowed them to win the next seven points to take the game, 26-24, en route to a three-game sweep.
"They seem to keep their composure well," Lord said. "They tend to hang in there and come through."
Huntingtown visits Patuxent on Tuesday. The Hurricanes host their lone meeting with defending Maryland 3A champion Calvert on Oct. 26, their penultimate regular season match.
Shirley Geisbert's gamble is paying off.
Leonardtown's coach stacked her varsity roster last season with seven sophomores. She was content to let the program rebuild through a tough season as the Raiders went 6-9.
Now, Leonardtown is benefiting from that experience; it won its first seven matches of the season before losing Thursday night to Calvert in four games.
"They're not nervous anymore because they learned last year," Geisbert said. "Last year was a rebuilding year and, while it was tough, it's been paying off."
The nerves might have tried to creep in during the Raiders' second match of the season Sept. 7 at McDonough. Leonardtown lost the first two games, and it could not rely on its serving; at one point, the Raiders missed six consecutive serves.
But Geisbert said her players drew on their familiarity with one another and began talking plenty to one another, both for encouragement and to help react to the play. The Raiders won the last three games and have not looked back since.
Geisbert credits the success also to her players' participation in the St. Mary's County junior club volleyball program. Even though it meets only once a week, it has served well for juniors Erin Brewer and Alexis Harrison, who have been club teammates since the third grade. Others on the Leonardtown varsity have joined them, including Becca Steinbach, Kat and Lauren Cobalt and Sydney Lindblad.
Geisbert, though, can't take all the credit for Leonardtown's strong start.
"They're playing well together, too, probably because they like each other," she joked.
Hooked on the Game
Jim Johnson was all set to end his summer with a vacation to the Galapagos Islands in August before Westlake Athletic Director Dominic Zaccarelli asked him a favor: Could you cancel that and coach the Wolverines' volleyball team?
Johnson barely knew the difference between a side-out and sideline, but given his more than 30 years' experience coaching and refereeing wrestling and soccer -- even field hockey for a season -- Johnson gave volleyball a shot. Now, he's hooked.
"I just absorb everything," said Johnson, whose Wolverines are 6-2 after a victory over La Plata on Thursday night. "This game is totally different [from wrestling], and I love it. The whole game is such a setup for what goes on both sides of the net."
Johnson has become a student of the sport, going to matches whenever Westlake's matches or practices aren't scheduled. Last weekend, he went to North Caroline to a tournament. After high school season, Johnson said, volleyball will have to fight for his attention in the winter when he is refereeing high school and college wrestling matches statewide, but he wants to be back on the Westlake sideline next fall.
"I'm going to keep doing it not just because I wanted to try something new," Johnson said, "but because it's a challenge and it's a whole lot of fun."