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Lebco volleyball teams set to serve notice

Call it a "serving" of completely different storylines with the dawn of a new volleyball season.

For starters, there's the uncertainty of what we'll see play out in Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three, after a furious ending to the 2015 campaign that saw three teams finishing tied behind powerhouse Lancaster Mennonite, who's expected to be just as tough once again.

The team that finished with the better overall record of the three is Northern Lebanon, which is beginning a new era with a new coach, but yet has four key starters returning to keep them in contention.

Another contender in Elco finds itself in a highly unusual mindset, while Lebanon is going back to the drawing board but still holding high expectations.

On the other hand, Palmyra looks to build off the momentum of a one-loss season without key pieces from last year's run.

Then there's New Covenant Christian, looking to move forward after its now second-year coach has himself now acclimated to the varsity level.

Here's a deeper look at the Lebanon County teams as the first set of matches draw closer.

Northern Lebanon Vikings

Coach: Hannah Brown, 1st year

Last year's record: 9-5

Key returners: Zoe Zerman, Sr., MH; Cassidy Shirk, Jr., OH; Kasey Smith, Jr., MH; Madison Hetrick, Jr., OH, S.

Key newcomers: Brianna Hossler, Fr., Zara Zerman, Fr.

Season outlook: After finishing in a three-way tie for second with Cocalico and Elco in Section Three behind the Blazers, who went undefeated in Section play, the Vikings look to ride the momentum into 2016, but with a new leader. First-year coach Hannah Brown will be looking to implement two main components. 

"Being team-oriented helped us last year, and I'm a believer this sport is a 'we' sport. You have to have a team to do well," Brown said, who takes over the varsity team after coaching NL's junior varsity squad last season.

"I also want to add a little more defensively. I always believe that defense wins games. I want to focus on that and get them playing defense well in the beginning of the season and then have the rest go from there."

Installing that philosophy could certainly make a difference with what the Vikings bring to the table offensively, especially from returning starters in senior Zoe Zerman, and juniors Cassidy Shirk, Kasey Smith, and Madison Hetric. And already Brown can see the chemistry not only in the returning starters, but also in some newcomers.

"So far it looks pretty good, I think we're going to have a good team," Brown said. "I also have a great freshman class that came out, so I'm excited to see how they progress this year as well." 

And as Brown steps into her inaugural season, she believes leadership will be key to again carry last year's momentum into a new season.  

"I think my biggest challenge is losing two of our main leaders, so we need to have people step up in that role," Brown said. "But that's up to the team and I have people with potential to do that. We also need to keep our winning attitude to know we can do well."

Lebanon Cedars

Coach: Jeff Albright

Last year's record: 2-14

Key returners: Sharlyn Yambo, Sr., S/L/LH; Aleishka Perez Silva, Jr., OH/M; Margaret Hinkle, Jr., S.

Key newcomers: Malddy Jimenez Espina, So., M; Aurianis Lassalle Rivera, So., S/OPP/LH; Kaylani Ayala, Jr., M

Season outlook: When a team comes off a season like the Cedars did, sometimes you have to just get back to the basics. And to begin this year's preseason, that's exactly been the approach for Lebanon. During the offseason, Lebanon coach Jeff Albright said many of his players took it to the club level to work on those fundamentals, and so far, he's seeing that extra hard work paying off. 

"Outside is where we have a couple of players coming back from club, and I think they'll be main contributors there and on the back row as well," Albright said. "Gaining that experience is huge. They got good touches, and the ability to get additional passes is going to help us tremendously. That was our big weakness. I'm hoping with the experience there it will improve." 

And even though it was a rough go for his team in 2015, Albright isn't taking his foot off the gas pedal as far as setting big goals for 2016.

"I've told the girls from day one I have high expectations," he said. "I would love to improve upon last year's record and I think we can do that with the young group we have."

Elco Raiders

Coach: Paul Dissinger, 11th season

Last year's record: 9-9

Key returners: Maddie Stone, So., S; Carli Sholl, Jr., OH

Key newcomers: Peyton Kline, Sr., OH; Tori Irvin Sr., MH; Lillian Petty, Sr.,  DS; Becca Lutz, Sr., S; Amanda Krall, So.,MH; Olivia Balsbaugh, Fr., L; 

Season outlook: For a team that's hit the fast forward button since it's inception nearly a decade ago, it now finds itself hitting new and unusual territory - hitting the reset button. 

"Goals are different than normal," said Raiders coach Paul Dissinger. "Now it's more about fundamental goals at this stage than actually going and working on plays." 

Coming off a season finishing in that three-way tie for second in Section Three and already earning his 100th career win, Dissinger realizes he has to pump on the brakes in trying to continuing to ride the momentum.  

"This is the biggest rebuild since we started the program in 2006. With this group, I'm going to be potentially playing two kids that have never played varsity or junior varsity. So it's going to be a working progress," Dissinger said. "This is a year I'd love to see .500, but if things break the right way we could end up challenging past that. But I'm more interested in watching them develop their skills and developing as a team, and let the wins come as they're going to."

Elco does get two starters back, including Section Three Second Team All-Stars Maddie Stone, a sophomore and Carli Sholl, a junior. And they'll no doubt  need to step up their leadership, both vocal and by example.  

"They're the anchor. It's good to have two all-stars to start with. Both played club all season as well, which is a huge help," Dissinger said. "At this point, I'm having them help the other girls on the fundamentals until we start actually doing more plays on the court where it's going to manifest itself a little bit more. And they're more than willing to do that."

Palmyra Cougars

Coach: Clark Sheaffer, 7th season

Last year's record: 19-1

Key returners: Melanie Sheaffer, Sr., OH /MB; LeeAnn Baker, Sr., OH; Kirstin West, Jr., S; Rachel Hutchinson, Jr., OH

Key newcomers: Maggie Black, Sr., OH; Kailey Elrod, Sr., D / OH; Alicia Vazquez, Jr., Defensive Specialist; Memphis Martin, Jr., MB / OH; Natasha Bucy, Jr., MB

Season outlook: In a dominating season where they shutout all but four opponents, the Cougars are looking to carry the momentum from last year's 19-1 season. But in turning the page to 2016, seventh-year coach Clark Sheaffer knows it may not be as easy after losing some key pieces, and is particularly concerned about one aspect of his team. 

"We have some talent but we are an undersized team.  We have players that can play in multiple positions and it is my responsibility to figure out where each player plays best," he said. " We have a strong schedule this year so hopefully we can earn a spot in districts.  It will be a challenging year."

Having versatile players will certainly be key once again for the Cougars, especially in notable returning starters, Kirstin West, Melanie Sheaffer, LeeAnn Baker, and Rachel Hutchinson. But if Palmyra can find some early season momentum, they are definitely poised for another big run. 

New Covenant Christian Flames

Coach: Chris Light, 2nd season

Last year's record: 5-11

Key returners: Danielle Rudy, Sr., Weak; Kaitlyn Fisher, Sr., OH; Briana Light, Sr., S; Sara Manoskey, Jr., OH/MH; Grace Simniskis, Jr., MH; Mikaila Keller, Jr., OH; Sarah Meese, So., Weak; Ashley Rogers, So., OH. From Lebanon Catholic: Annabelle Philippe, Sr., MH; Hannah Callihan, Jr., MH; Vinah Celestin, Jr., OH

Key newcomers: Alyssa Light, Fr., S. From Lebanon Catholic: Jillian Stachura Sr., S; Rehgan Hupp So., OH/MH; Sofia Marko Fr., OH

Season outlook: After a year of adjustment to coaching on the high school varsity level, Flames second-year man Chris Light is looking to accelerate his team into a playoff contender. He has no better opportunity to do that than this season, having a strong group of upperclassmen leading the way. That includes three seniors - two of which will look to facilitate that motto - with co-captains Danielle Rudy and Briana Light expected to lead the way. 

Also in the mix that are returning are three other upperclassmen coming over from Lebanon Catholic as part of a co-op between the two schools in senior Annabelle Philippe, and juniors Hannah Callihan and Vinah Celestin. 

"I am looking forward to a great season, we have a lot of experienced and talented players. I am looking to build off of the experiences from last season and hopefully if will translate into a winning record and an opportunity to play in the postseason," Light said. "We want to come together as a team, as well as develop our individual skills."

Cedar Crest Falcons 

Coach: Chad Nolen, 3rd season 

Last year's record: 9-9

Key returners: Grace Miller, OH; Amy Johns, MH; Destinee Holloman, OH; Brookyln Varner, S

Key newcomers: Deasia Holloman, Mackenzie Sattazahn, Maddie Weidle

Season outlook: One game has been what's kept the Falcons from a playoff berth for two straight seasons. Despite having their best season in over 10 years in 2015, Cedar Crest continues to work towards finally get over the hump - but will have to do it without last year's standout senior class. 

"Our seniors last year accounted for 66% of our defensive stats and 50% of offense. This year will be a tough test with a very young team as we have only two seniors," said Cedar Crest coach Chad Nolen. "The team as a whole has tons of potential that will be looking to keep pushing the bar higher."

The core four looking to continue those defensive and offensive trends are outside hitters Grace Miller and Destinee Holloman, along with middle hitter Amy Johns, and setter Brooklyn Varner. 

"The last three years we have continually made more and more progress competing against the teams in our section. We haven't been to playoffs in a long time and I believe this group will be able to get it done," Nolen said.