A tall and talented front line and two college-bound setters make Valley Christian a heavy favorite to repeat as Central Coast Section Division III girls volleyball champion and a strong contender for a state-title run.
But do the experienced Warriors have enough firepower to win their league championship?
That will be the question to follow as the girls volleyball season gets started this week.
Archbishop Mitty swept Valley Christian last season en route to the West Catholic Athletic League season and tournament championships. The Monarchs would go on to complete a perfect season with a Division II state title.
Libero Anne Marie Schmidt, last season's Mercury News player of the year, and opposite Allie Wheeler have graduated from Mitty. But the team returns outside hitter Clare Powers and setter Kelsey Crawford -- both All-Mercury News players last season.
"It's just like last year," Mitty coach Bret Almazan-Cezar said. "We think we're going to be good, but we're just not sure."
One of the unknowns for Mitty is the status of Crawford, who is sidelined because of a back injury. She had an MRI last week and is day-to-day, Almazan-Cezar said.
Valley Christian, meanwhile, starts the season with the look of a potential champion. The Warriors are led by star setter and right side Maddie Dilfer, who has committed to Notre Dame, and three tall and athletic middle blockers -- 6-foot-3 Ronika Stone, 6-3 Ashlyn Fleming and 6-4 Ella Lajos.
They also have Santa Clara-bound setter and right side Kirsten Mead.
"Valley Christian this year has the potential to be even better than Mitty," Palo Alto coach Dave Winn said. "They have the tallest roster I have ever seen around, one of the best setters not only in the area but in the country in Maddie Dilfer and Kirsten Mead. I wouldn't be surprised if they win the WCAL."
Valley Christian tied Sacred Heart Cathedral and Presentation for second in the WCAL last season but won its first CCS title in more than a quarter century when it defeated SHC in the Division III final. The Warriors' season ended with a loss to Campolindo in the Northern California D-III title match.
Asked about this year, Dilfer, the daughter of former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, said, "We've set the expectations high. But we also know that nothing is going to be given to us. So although we have high expectations, we know we have to work for it.
"We still have a lot of work to do."
Although the teams could potentially meet in tournaments, Valley Christian and Mitty are not scheduled to play until Oct. 15 at Mitty.
"Mitty's a great team, and they're always really good," Dilfer said. "I think they'll be really good this year. But we just need to focus on our side of the net more than them. It'll be a battle every time we play them, but I'm excited and looking forward to it."
In addition to the 6-3 Powers, Mitty also has 6-4 middle blocker Alexa Dryer and outside hitter Shirin Tooloee.
Sacred Heart Prep graduated key players from a team that reached the Division IV state final last season, including outside hitter Sonia Abuel-Saud. Its West Bay Athletic League Foothill Division rival Menlo, which returns a bulk of its roster, including league MVP Maddie Huber, enters this season as one of the area's top teams.
Homestead, which lost to Menlo-Atherton in the CCS Division I final last season, returns nearly its entire roster. The Mustangs graduated standout outside hitter Emily Reed, but a noteworthy setter, Maria Balus, has transferred in from Monta Vista.
Palo Alto and Los Gatos are generally in the mix for the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division title, but Winn said this season there is a clear favorite.
"Without question, it will be Homestead this year," the Palo Alto coach said. "They pretty much return everybody except for one outside hitter."
Although Valley Christian and Mitty are the favorties, the WCAL also includes three more top-ranked teams -- St. Francis, Presentation and Sacred Heart Cathedral.