For five years, the University of Maryland has dominated local women's college volleyball, while other area schools have considered the fast-moving game a sport more fit for the San Pedro Beach Bums and the nation's playgrounds.

Suddenly, women's volley ball has become extremely popular here and Maryland is beginning to look over its shoulder.

"They (the other schools) are getting better, but that's good for us, too," said Maryland coach Barbara Drum, who has taken the Terrapins to the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) national tournament three straight years and four of the last six. "It was hard for us to go out to the nationals and compete with the likes of UCLA and USC after playing the area teams. But now, they're beginning to sneak up on us."

Maryland (21-5) lacks the overall height it has been blessed with in the past but still is an overwhelming favourite to beat out Goergetown, George Washington, America, Catholic and Howard for the unofficial area championship and earn another berth in the Eastern regional tournament. Those berths are earned on the basis of won-lost records and the strength of schedules.

The top players for the Terrapins are four-years starters Cathy Stevenson are Carol Brice, both 5 foot 9. Mary Duckworth takes care of the setting duties while Carol Thompson, a 5-11 freshman and a member of the United States Junior Olympic team last year, is awesome at the net.

Mary's top area competition this season probably will come from Howard. The Bison (10-0) just missed receiving a bid to the regionals last year and coach Jackye Cody is more than confident her tall, experienced players can reach that goal this season.

Winsome (Skinny) Davidson, a 5-11 1/2 spiker, Annette Wynn, Debra Davis and 5-10 freshman Margaret Albury make up a tough front line. Howard meets Maryland in the final regular-season game for both teams.

Georgetown (11-5) already has lost to Howard and Maryland and, according to coach Joe McClure, may still "be a year away."

The Hoyas went to the Eastern regionals last year but inexperience doomed them to a 12th-place finish. Cathleen Connolly (6 feet), Mimi Brady (5-10) and Mary Jean Ryan (5-10 1/2) may form the tallest front line in the area and Georgetown still could make a run for a regional berth.

George Washington (14-4) is not blessed with much height, and has relied on good defense. Led by Carmen Samuel, Judy Morrison and Jeanne Dutterer, the Colonials have set their sights on a bid to the small college Eastern regionals in New York in November.

American (4-3) has improved over the past few seasons but still lacks the talent and experience to compete with the local powers.

Navy (11-1) is in only its first year of varsity competition but has defeated several local schools. Susan Stapler, Cathy Rayhill and Kathy Walsh, all sophomores, should be good enough to boost Navy to among the top teams next year.

George Mason (10-10), Cathlic (2-6), Gallaudet (7-7), Bowie State (0-3) and the University of the District of Columbia all lack the depth experience and talent to compete with the bigger area schools.

Mason, led by Janis Clayborn, has a good shot at winning the Virginia state tournament and possibly gaining a regional bid.