With five of its six starters returning, Seneca Valley was expected to be a strong contender in Montgomery County volleyball. But not even senior middle hitter Krista Eschelman imagined that the No. 8 Screaming Eagles would be 5-0 -- without dropping a game in the process.

Even Eschelman admits that the reality of what Seneca Valley can accomplish is beginning to set in. The turning point, she said, came at perennial power Gaithersburg last week.

"We had a lot of experience in our returning players," Eschelman said. "We were pretty confident. But we didn't think that we would be doing as well as we are now. That [Gaithersburg victory] was a pretty good confidence builder. We figure if we can beat them, we have a chance to do well this season."

The Eagles' core is Eschelman, junior setter Julie Gassert and senior outside hitters Jasmine McNair and Priscilla deOliveira. Against Springbrook on Tuesday, Gassert collected 20 assists, and McNair led with nine kills.

Alignment Problems

No. 10 Osbourn Park (6-1) entered the volleyball season with so much talent that Coach Kate Southcott compared it to putting two all-star teams together.

That's an enviable situation, but those players were split on different teams in the club season, which has made for some communication adjustments this fall, particularly among seniors Christie Kirby and Kaitlin Crutchley.

"I like where they are on the floor, but they were constantly stealing balls from each other," Southcott said. "The one stealing the ball would usually make a bad play off it because they're nervous because the other person is in the corner of their eye. Instead of calling it, it's 'should I, shouldn't I.' "

The Yellow Jackets addressed that issue during a recent stretch of days off, and it paid off this week with sweeps of Cedar Run District challenger Stonewall Jackson -- a team that beat Osbourn Park twice last regular season -- and Woodbridge.

Win Streak Ends

No. 7 River Hill became the first girls' soccer team to win the Howard County title without allowing a goal last fall, but its 10-game shutout streak against county opponents came to an end in its first league game last week.

Atholton sophomore forward Kate Nicholson scored off an assist from senior midfielder Melinda Petre midway through the second half to give her team a 1-0 victory, its first against River Hill in school history. The Atholton victory ended the Hawks' 21-game county winning streak dating from 2001.

"What we did last year was special, and since we only returned four starters I knew it was going to be very hard to do what we did last year again," River Hill Coach Willie Ibarra said. "It's like we started over."

Two days later, River Hill (4-2) beat then-No. 4 Urbana, 2-0.

"I don't think we overlooked Atholton, it was just one of those games where we didn't finish and they did, and that's just soccer," senior All-Met goalie Katy Hudson said. "I think against Urbana we showed how well we can play."

Staff writer Jon Gallo contributed to this report.