After Cardinal Gibbons and Broughton clashed in the postseason in each of the last two years, the two will now compete for conference titles.
Broughton (21-2), led by former Gibbons coach Jim Freeman (514-147 in 25 seasons), has six starters back in junior Jade Demps and five senior Division I recruits: Grace Youngblood, Nan Parrish, Holli Smith, Alden Willis and Claire Sawyer. Gibbons (21-8) returns a good mix of experience, led by junior Caroline Dozier (506 assists).
Leesville Road (15-6) will be in the mix as well with five starters back including juniors Brittany Staves, Jordan Gower and N.C. State recruit Daniela McDonald. Coach Erin Hensler is 46-16 in three years.
Sanderson (15-10), led by Sydney Koch, Parker Moody, Hallie Phillips, Drew James and Lucy Campbell, brings back five of its starters as well.
Millbrook (8-11), Enloe (1-21) and Southeast Raleigh (1-16) all missed the playoffs last year but will seek improvement this season.
Northern Athletic 4A
With no reigning conference champions, the Northern Athletic is wide open.
Rolesville (14-9), fresh off its first appearance in the state playoffs, won’t take opponents by surprise anymore after bringing back four starters including Ahunna Akpuda, Hannah Stroot and Hannah Escala.
Wakefield (16-6), led by veteran coach Cynthia Terrell (260-91), has Duke recruit Ade Owokoniran (427 kills), Lauren Slusher (388 digs), Erin McEneny, Ele’sia Williams, Amelia Hannert, Brynn Moore and Sarah Wilson. The Wolverines will be young but talented.
Corinth Holders (14-8), moving up from 3A, has three returning starters and will be led by Julie Weisenberg, Ali Blanco, Jess Aycock, Megan Philipson and Grace Pittman.
Heritage (6-16) has a number of players back, led by Ally Harper, Natalie Williams and Victoria Legrant. Wake Forest (5-17) and Knightdale (7-16) were also young.
South Wake Athletic 4A
Tradition-rich Apex (15-7) has three starters back and will be led by Alyssa Hanson (234 kills), Madeline Rudd (221 kills), Brooke Hanschumacher and Anna Jackson (216 assists). The Cougars will try to replace defensive voids left by graduation.
Apex Friendship (6-12) ended last year red-hot. Its first senior class will play under Branden Green, a former head coach at Heritage and Enloe. Logan Mignano (126 kills), Kayla Zoutendyk (220 digs), Madelyn Wilson and Brenna Matthews (171 assists lead the way.
Fuquay-Varina (12-11) has a new coach in Laura Karpf but a slew of returning players. Alyah Barkley, Joanna Petterson, Deja Byrd, Lauren Bissette and Emily Braxton help lead a strong team chemistry.
Holly Springs (12-12) will be a young team. Grace Fields and Izzy Kelsey will contribute after Fields missed most of last year and Kelsey missed it entirely due to injury. Abby Akins, Kali Murray and Zoe Viney area also back.
Middle Creek (12-13) lost most of its team to graduation while Garner (8-15), a SWAC newcomer, has five starters back. The Trojangs are led by Regan Adams (248 digs), Sanaa Lanier (266 kills) and Shaylynn Hall (181 kills).
Triangle 6 4A
Green Hope has almost everyone back from a 28-1 season and its first N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A volleyball championship. But coach Karl Redelfs, 122-37 overall entering his eighth year, said he doesn’t want his team to focus on last year.
Green Hope, the prohibitive Tri-6 favorites, have top returners like Sydney Dowler (873 assists), Kayla Dowler (306 kills), Amy Zhang (352 digs), Alexis Englebrecht, Erin Boone (321 kills), Erin McIndoe (424 digs) and Luisa Lyons (125 kills).
But Panther Creek (21-3) was the only team to hand the Falcons a loss last season. Lauren Della, Alani Alderman and Aleigh Hockaday give the Catamounts a solid core.
Athens Drive (4-17) returns three starters, led by College of Charleston recruit Claire Campbell, sophomore Kelly Kaufmann and senior Rebecca Johnson, and should have a dynamic offense.
Jordan (8-15) and Riverside (9-13) have strong programs but were young last year. Cary (5-17) could surprise this year.
Overhills (13-9-1) won last year’s Mid-South Conference tournament and will join the new Patriot Athletic 3A/4A this year. The Jaguars return senior Kandace Henry. Pinecrest (13-9), which joins the Sandhills Athletic Conference is no longer coached by Barbara Foxx, who retired after 726 wins in 39 years.
Eastern Carolina 3A/4A
South Central (7-11) and New Bern (20-4) are the only two 4A teams and will fight for the lone automatic playoff spot between them.
Powerhouses D.H. Conley (25-1) and J.H. Rose (17-5) are dropping down a level and will have C.B. Aycock as their main competition for the league’s top 3A seed.
4A East runner-up Conley returns Alannah Thomas (358 kills) as one of three starters back. The Vikings will get a boost from Macy Smith, Claire Scemama, Elana Fuller, Hannah Shafter and Alexis Desoto.
Rose returns six contributors from last year, including Lilly Eveleth, Abby Wordsworth and Holly Gibson.
Aycock (18-8) returns PrepsNow All-Metro player Arlanda Faulkner.
Big East 3A
Northern Nash (9-13) returns leading hitter Ashlee Brackett and welcomes newcomer Megan Camden from West Virginia. The Knights hope to have strong defensive play and good serving under longtime coach Patricia Haggerty.
Defending league champ Hunt (14-8) brings back Amoret Stinagle, Meghan Martinez and Allyson Matthews but will be challenged by newcomer Franklinton (16-8), which reached the fourth round of the 2A playoffs.
Fike (12-9) was one of the top service teams in the area with 223 aces on the year. Mason Blake, Katherine Newton and Reece Nelson make up a strong front row.
Big Eight 3A
Chapel Hill (25-3) has three talented sophomores, UNC commit Kaya Merkler (231 kills), June Arricastres (410 assists) and Courtney Zwikker (128 kills), to go with Hannah Wander (420 digs) and Bailey Rose. The Tigers won’t lack in offensive firepower.
East Chapel Hill (13-10) has one of the top sophomore liberos in the country in Gabby Meltzer. Logan Pope, Kennedy Collins and Amaya Royster also return.
Orange (11-10) should be strong with the return of Bailey Lucas (274 assists), Caroline Compton (266 assists), Faith Foushee (251 digs), Liz Lanier and Emma Clements (137 kills, 83 aces). The Panthers are strong defensively.
Cedar Ridge (8-14) is traditionally strong and other Big Eight coaches expect Northwood (14-10) to be much improved. Northern Durham (9-13) drops down from 4A after one of its better seasons in recent years.
Greater Neuse River 3A
With four starters back from a record-breaking year, Clayton (21-2) is in position to retain its conference title. Ally Felix, Ashley Tutt, Riley Kerigan and Maya Gray are back. Gray was the conference player of the year, and McKenzie Moore is an all-conference transfer from East Wake.
Cleveland (15-7) and West Johnston (18-4) will be in the mix for a conference title as well.
South Johnston (3-18) has three starters back and will be led by LeeAnna Hines, Kelly Dorman and freshman Katon Blackmon. The Trojans were a young team last year, breaking a streak of eight straight seasons with at least 10 wins.
New East Wake (5-17) coach Whitney Woolard has senior Dajha Williams, who missed last year with an ACL tear, senior setter Caroline Bell and hitter Lexi Tripp to lead the way for the Warriors’ first year in 3A.
Tri-County 6 3A
Union Pines (19-5) will aim for a conference title thanks to five returning starters: Eliza Athans, Kelsey Leitschuch, Abby Vocha (255 kills), Angel Johnson and Hadiya Balser. Vocha, Athans (498 assists) and Leitschuh were all-conference last year in the Cape Fear Valley Conference.
But Triton (20-5), last year’s 3A East runner-up, and Lee County (11-10), the 2014 East runner-up, will provide stiff competition.
Person (22-3) moves to the Mid-State 3A Conference after finishing runner-up to state power Cardinal Gibbons in the PAC-6 4A. Eight experienced returners mean the Rockets will have a chance at a deep run in the playoffs. Hailey Long, Avery Bowman, Karoline Cox, Cristina Roberts and Tamia Lipscomb lead the way.
Eastern Carolina 2A
South Lenoir (13-8) has three starters back: Hunter West (115 blocks, 213 kills), Amber Parker (258 digs) and Sara Beth Stroud (378 assists). The Blue Devils are the defending conference champs.
Eastern Plains 2A
Farmville Central (20-5) may have graduated All-Metro player Courteney Pitt, who is now at North Carolina A&T, but her younger sister, freshman Lauryn Pitt, should step in. She’s joined by Kate Lancaster, Greyson Fields and Ashton Turnage.
North Pitt (16-6) and North Johnston (9-13) will also compete for the league’s top spot.
Reigning 2A champ Carrboro (30-0) has five junior stars, including UNC recruit Destiny Cox. Sarah Montross, Destinee Dorsey, Emma Fritsch, Penny Newall and Millie McGuire are also back. Coach Steve Scanga said that the back row will be key this year and the Jaguars should continue to be a tough serving team.
Durham School of the Arts (8-12) has seven players with starting experience back, including Angel Bowden, Chanell Latta, Xiamana Spikes and Lande Simpson.
Goldsboro (12-9) returns four starters in Dakota Jones, Riley Howell (416 assists), Amber Pfennig and Marcy Taylor.
Northern Carolina 1A/2A
This league brings together 2A and 1A powers this year.
Louisburg has some of its top players back from last year’s 1A runner-up: Whitney Bolton, Journee Hartsfield (631 assists) and Kaylee Saunders (65 aces). The Warriors have a smaller roster than last year but will be a harder-hitting team.
South Granville (23-4), the 2015 2A state champs, will get a challenge on the 2A side by Bunn (17-10) and J.F. Webb (13-9). Webb is moving down from 3A.
Southern Vance (4-20) has four starters back. April Pendergrass, Kierra Gray and Rielly Wortham will be relied upon heavily.
Princeton (15-7) was young last year, but the Bulldogs are one of the top 1A programs in the state. Lakewood (18-5) and Rosewood (11-12) are Princeton’s top conference competition.
Central Tar Heel 1A
In a wide-open CTHC, Chatham Central (11-13) looks like the favorite. Woods Charter (3-18) is led by senior Tyler Deegan, a two-time all-conference pick.
North Central Athletic 1A
Roxboro Community (25-4) made it all the way to the 1A West regional final last year and starts this season as the conference favorite.
Voyager Academy (18-7) has hitter Caitlin Leggett (147 kills, 183 digs), Kiera Degroat, Stacey Oxendine, Briggs Rose and Katie McLamb. Franklin Academy (19-4) will also be in the mix.
North Raleigh Christian Academy (23-0) has risen to a N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association powerhouse. The two-time defending 3A champs return Casey Justus, a Cornell reccruit, Skylar Buckley and Lauren Janok, an Army recruit. Ravenscroft (20-8) will be NRCA’s top in-conference competition, but the rest of the league looks strong top-to-bottom.
Cary Academy (7-13) has five starters back including Elizabeth White (134 kills) and five-year starter Kate Hampton (362 digs, 177 kills).
Wake Christian’s (19-12) Caroline Vincent averaged 23 assists per game while setting up hitters Mackenzie Calton and Abbey Curtis.
Durham Academy (9-16) has five starters back, led by Adriana Kim (327 assists), Michiko Haynie (140 kills) and Ellie Palmer (109 kills).
Arendell Parrott (21-2) in Kinston is 40-7 over the last two seasons. The Patriots return Scarlet Combs (271 kills), Hannah Avery (225 kills), Mackenzie Pope (664 assists) and Alli Avery (205 kills) to the state semifinalists.
Raleigh’s Grace Christian School (21-3)is the defending Eastern Plains Independent Conference champs. The O’Neal School in Southern Pines has Toyin Koleoso, Haley Sager, Rachel Patton, Holly Pashley, Kayla Jenkins and Catherine McFadyen.
Rocky Mount Academy returns five starters, including juniors Ashley Wright and Tiffany Chandler.
Kerr-Vance (22-2) and Wayne Christian (23-5) were each state semifinalists a year ago.