It is hard to imagine that, at 6 feet 4, Langley senior blocker Meredith Doyle is anything but aggressive. Stationed on the front line for the Saxons last season, Doyle set a school record for career blocks with 269. She enters this season just 16 kills shy of the school record of 475.
She broke her pinkie before a season-ending loss to Robinson in the Northern Region semifinals last season but still recorded 16 kills and five blocks. Just five days earlier, she registered a season-high 19 kills in a 3-2 victory over Chantilly in a region quarterfinal.
But still, neither Doyle nor her coach, Susan Shifflett, would consider her the most combative player on the team. Perhaps Doyle's reputation derives in part from the time in eighth grade when she walked away from the game of basketball because, she said, it had become "too physical."
Yet, with a spirit that her coach describes as "gentle," the 17-year-old has carved out a niche as one of the most talented players in the Washington area entering her final season.
"She is very competitive," Shifflett said of Doyle, who has committed to play at the University of Maryland next season. "She is the best blocker I've ever seen. . . . She is not a big fan of hitting the floor, but she definitely has a forte in the front row."
Doyle leads a cadre of talented returning players for Langley -- including senior setter Tereza Widmar, senior setter Katie Mahowald and outside hitter Caroline Patten -- as the Saxons (18-3) attempt to erase the memory of the disappointing end to last season, which also included an upset loss to McLean in the Liberty District tournament.
Last year, Doyle recorded 137 blocks -- 88 solo and 49 assisted -- for Langley. But what has lingered most in her mind this past offseason was the three-games-to-none loss to Robinson in the region semifinals. She believes the Saxons can challenge for the state title.
"I think we're more focused and calmer and work more together as a team," said Doyle, who said that she noticed positive change in her teammates after a recent team camp in Frostburg, Md. "I think we learned that about ourselves last season. It's extremely motivating. Tereza and I have been together for four years, but we've never won the [Liberty] district title. We've pushed this to the end of the line for my high school years."