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How far can the young Nighthawks go?

By Brandon Stoneburg

We’re only a few weeks away from the start of fall sports season. We’ve been previewing each football team for the past two months, but it’s time to check in on the other sports. Here we’ll preview girls volleyball in the Hanover-Adams area. Next up: Hanover.

Hanover Nighthawks

Last year: 10-6 overall, 6-6 Division III, reached District 3 playoffs

Coach: Liz Garber (2nd season)

Key players lost: Lexi Spangler, Khadijah Bias, Lauren Smith

Key players returning: Saranda Gerlach (Sr.), Alexa Merrel (Jr.), McKenzie Cleary (Jr.), Kelsey Staub (Jr.)

Team strength: Familiarity, experience, outside hitting.

Head coach Liz Garber is no longer a rookie. The second-year head coach had a full offseason to work with her team. Youth can be a strength or weakness, depending on how the sophomore and junior classes perform and even though the Nighthawks bring back just one senior (Gerlach), the junior-heavy lineup has been playing together for several years. That familiarity is a huge strengh, Garber said.

Hanover also got a taste of postseason play last season when they battled Bermudian Springs in the District 3 Class AA quarterfinals. Now the Nighthawks know what it takes to get to the postseason and the opening round loss made them that much more hungry to get back.

Outside hitting is also a plus for Hanover. Saranda Gerlach and Alexa Merrel both return as strong outside hitters in the starting lineup, making the outside a reliable area for Garber.

Any concerns?: Lack of height.

Overcoming the loss of libero Lexi Spangler and middle blocker Khadijah Bias, who led the team in blocks last season, will be tough. The Nighthawks don't have a lot of height in the middle, so their biggest challenge will be patrolling the net against the division's stronger hitters (Delone, Bermudian). Hanover's defense will have to be "beautiful" to make up for it, Garber said.

Keep an eye on: Alexa Merrel

Garber specifically pointed at her outside hitter as a player who has stood out in the offseason.

"Merrel has put in a lot of work this offseason," Garber said. "She was strong last season, but I think she will be even stronger this season."

Storyline to follow: How far can the young Nighthawks go?

On paper, Hanover is one of the youngest teams in the league with just one senior returning, but the majority of their eight juniors played significant roles in the rotation last season as sophomores. Garber likes their familiarity and experience. It's a young, hungry group, eager to build on last season's postseason appearance, so how far can that junior class (and one senior, don't forget about the senior) carry the Nighthawks? Finishing in the top half of Division III and returning to the district playoffs are two realistic goals in Hanover.