This year will be no different.
Union, rolling off a record-setting season from last year, is expected to be strong again. District powers Abingdon and Gate City are both looking to be improved, along with the rest of the district that includes Wise Central, Lee High, John Battle and Ridgeview.
“There are no cupcakes in this district,” Union coach Kim Moore said in describing play in the Mountain 7.
Here’s a look at the district teams heading into the season.
Moore’s Lady Bears are poised for another run deep into the postseason and back to the state tournament after finishing with a 25-6 record last season.
Union advanced to the state Class 2 semifinals last season before falling to Radford.
Moore is pleased with the way last year’s team performed, but she’s concerned about this season’s squad, especially with the unexpected early-season absence of Class 2 all-state player Emili Brooks.
Brooks suffered a hand injury in the summer during basketball camp and her return to volleyball is still up in the air. Moore hopes it will be mid-September, but she’s not putting any time limit on the star’s return.
As a junior Brooks recorded 495 kills, 55 service aces and 237 digs.
“We’re just going to have to figure out how to play without her,” said Moore.
The Lady Bears will also have to replace Hollins signee Zoe Brooks, who holds a school record 2,770 career assists, third best in VHSL history.
Also lost to graduation are outside hitter Megan Blagg, who is at Virginia-Wise, libero Audrey Gilliam, defensive specialist Pia Morgan and outside hitter Iyanna Moore.
Despite the heavy losses, Union still has plenty of experience.
In addition to Brooks, the Lady Bears have senior Jayda Smith, sophomore outside hitter and setter Desi Brooks, senior outside hitter Krista Meredith, senior outside hitter Autumn Varner and senior defensive specialist Abbi Dickenson who all factored in the rotation last year.
The Lady Bears open their season Tuesday at Lebanon.
The Lady Blue Devils will be a senior-laden team this season with five seniors on the squad that finished 20-12 last year.
All-Region 2D pick Sarah Thompson, a junior, returns as the team’s top hitter.
Other hitters for Gate City include seniors Kinslee Hammonds, Aubrie Penley and sophomore Bel Sallee.
Senior Kaley Jenkins returns, along with senior libero Lexie Summers and defensive specialist Ava Seagle, another senior.
Gate City opens its season Wednesday at home against Daniel Boone.
The Lady Warriors took several hits from graduation last year, particularly on the front line.
“We do have several young, new hitters, and I am hoping they are able to quickly adjust to the speed of the game because there is such a huge difference between JV and varsity,” said second-year coach Jessica Sturgill. “I am hoping our younger hitters can step up, work hard and get to where they need to be.”
Central will have some strength in its defense and passing game with the return of junior libero Hannah McAmis, who has 670 career digs.
Caitlin Glover, who moved up mid-season from the JV team last year, finished with 187 assists.
At the net, senior hitter Olivia Basham looks to build off her success from last year’s team that finished 9-15. Basham recorded over 100 kills as a junior.
Also back are hitter Bayleigh Allison and defensive players Isabella Sturgill, Rylee Duncan and Skylar Sturgill.
Newcomers include Lebanon transfer Charlee Long at hitter. Other hitters include Gabby Hall, Olivia Sanders and Katherine Hopkins.
New to the back row this year are Maggie Shell and Alivia Elkins.
Enthusiasm is high for the Wolfpack, who finished 7-14 last season.
New coach Holly Fleming has three starters returning from last year’s rotation, including libero Lorin Phipps, setter Alyssa Price and middle hitter Haley Mullins.
Also back for Ridgeview are hitters Hailey Pease and Madison Mullins.
Fleming lists hitters Brooke Frazier and Leah Newberry, setter Kassidy Rasnick and defensive specialist Kierstyn Brooks as promising newcomers for the Wolfpack.
The Lady Trojans enter the season with plenty of experience, and that’s exciting for Battle coach Brittni Haderer.
“We are excited for this season. We have some real talent spread around the floor this year and multiple threats to keep an eye on,” said Haderer.
Five players — Emma Harmon, Bethany Smith, Keelie Pippen, Logan Leonard and Kelsey Blaylock — return from a starting rotation that finished 12-16 last season.
Haderer said junior Kendra Owens, freshman Zoie Long, senior Cassidy Kiser, freshman Molly Little and senior Parker Cannon will also add energy to the rotation.
The Lady Trojans open their season Tuesday at home against Washington County foe Patrick Henry.
The Lady Falcons are loaded with experience and talent and look to make a run for the district championship this season.
Coming off a Mountain 7 co-championship and a 21-10 mark last year, the Lady Falcons return six seniors, including All-Region 3D hitter Katie Harless, who had 230 kills last season.
Abingdon also returns starting hitters Cassie Farley and Morgan Blevins and setter Emme Thompson.
Kara Miller looks to see plenty of playing time on the front line, along with Alexis Brown, Annabelle Adkins and Maggie Williams, a transfer from J.I. Burton.
Setter Abby Boyd and backline players Megan Counts, Erin Terry, Lacie Bertke and Jade Lawson also will add valuable depth.
Abingdon opens its season on Tuesday at Virginia High.