The Cheshire Rams and Amity Spartans have combined to win every SCC title since 2011 and have met in the league final five times during that span. They're coming off some Hollywood-style performances last year, as three of their four matches went the full five sets. Cheshire won the first three meetings, including 3-2 in the SCC final, but Amity got revenge with a five-set victory in the Class LL quarterfinals en route to its first state title since 2003. The Spartans graduated Abby Harbinson, the New Haven Register's All-Area MVP, but return setter Zoe DiZenzo, who was a rock during the state playoff run. Cheshire has All-State hitter Lindsey Abramson back. That's just the tip of the iceberg for the two rivals. The most likely teams to challenge include Guilford and Shelton, each of whom return some talented veterans.

BLUE WAVE RISING

Four years really isn't that long of a span between appearances in the state finals, but the Darien Blue Wave is a different animal. Since 1993, Darien has reached 19 state finals and won 17 championships, including 10 straight from 2001 to 2010. After two uncharacteristically lean seasons which saw them go a combined 17-22, the Wave roared back last fall, compiling a record of 18-8 and reaching the Class LL final where they fell to Amity, 3-1. Darien graduated All-State hitter Lindsey Bennett, but has plenty returning, including middle Hassana Arbubakrr and hitter Elaina Cummiskey, along with Sophia Talwalkar.

WESTHILL VIKINGS STILL SAILING

The Vikings had a renaissance year in 2018, going 22-4 overall, earning the FCIAC's top seed and advancing to the FCIAC final for the first time since 2004. Unfortunately, a championship didn't come to pass as Westhill lost to Trumbull in the FCIAC final, and was then bounced in the Class LL semifinals with a 3-0 loss to eventual champ Amity. Westhill, which last won the FCIAC in 1986 and last won a state crown in 1980, is again a strong contender with players such as setter Sophia Thaguras and hitter Betsy Sachs back for their senior campaigns.

CAN ANYONE BEAT RHAM IN THE CCC?

The answer last year was yes -- at least during the regular season. Southington rolled past the Sachems in a 3-0 shutout on Sept. 17, but seven weeks later, RHAM earned a CCC championship three-peat with a 3-0 win over Farmington in the final. Farmington had eliminated Southington, 3-2, in the conference quarterfinals. The Sachems had to deal with a lot of graduations from the 2017 team, but now have several stars back, including setter Kate Santella, defensive specialist Meredith Blinn, and hitters Bella Johnson and Kaylin Hadley. Southington, which was 22-2 last year, Farmington and Bristol Eastern figure to the top contenders to detrone RHAM.

BLOCK PARTY

This one isn't as much a storyline as it is an opening whistle as the CIAC hosts 20 teams in an Early Season Block Party Tournament this weekend at the CT Sports Center in Woodbridge. Play will begin at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, and admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. The tournament will feature matches on five courts, starting with pool play and ending with a double-elimination tournament. Many contenders will be playing, including defending state champions Amity (Class LL), Joel Barlow (Class L), and Seymour (Class M), as well as one state runner-up Darien (Class LL). Eighteen of the 20 teams on the slate qualified for the postseason last fall. It's the second year for the tournament, which the CIAC created "in an effort to provide a large, competitive, multi-team event opportunity to facilitate teams making good use of the permitted contests."

Players to Watch: Katharine Santella, RHAM; Meredith Blinn, RHAM; Bella Johnson, RHAM; Kaylin Hadley, RHAM; Raven Symond-Jarrett, New Britain; Zoe Lowe, Bristol Eastern; Ryleigh Donahue, South Windsor; Jia Yazon, South Windsor

Outlook: Southington was unbeaten in conference play, but was knocked out of the CCC playoffs when Farmington rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a five-set thriller in the quarterfinals. Farmington reached the title tilt, but couldn't overcome RHAM, which won its third consecutive crown. With players such as Blinn and Kate Santella back in the fold, RHAM is a favorite to keep the dynasty going.

Players to Watch: Sophie Dubreil, East Lyme; Mya Delesdrenier, East Lyme; Nora Ryan, Fitch; Helen Megson, Lyman Memorial

Outlook: Woodstock Academy rolled to the conference tournament championship, sweeping past three teams, including East Lyme in the final. The Centaurs, who were defeated by Barlow in the Class M final, are a perennial contender, but will face a strong challenge from East Lyme, which was 19-5 last season and returns an experienced roster. Lyman Memorial, last year's Class S champion, won the Div. II title and returns a strong team as well.

Players to Watch: Lily Saleeby, Greenwich; Ali Castro, Trumbull; Hassana Arbubakrr, Darien; Sophia Thaguras, Westhill; Betsy Sachs, Westhill; Bailey Cenatiempo, Trumbull; Morgan Scavone, Stamford.

Outlook: Westhill was the FCIAC's top team during the regular season, but couldn't overcome Trumbull in the title tilt, as the Eagles won in a sweep. There were a couple of firsts in that match: Trumbull won its first conference championship, and Westhill was making its first trip to the league final since 2004. They'll both be among the favorites in 2019, alongside Darien, last year's Class LL runner-up, and Greenwich.

Outlook: SMSA won its first NCCC tournament championship last season, following a 14-0 regular season with a 3-1 win over Coventry in the final. Those two teams, along with Granby, should be among the contenders again this year.

Players to Watch: Faith Rousseau, Seymour; Vivian Bunker, Kennedy; Brielle Behuniak, Naugatuck; Niah Mesidor, Oxford; Kolby Sirowich, Seymour

Outlook: The Seymour Wildcats were a powerhouse in 2018, but the Kennedy Eagles rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the NVL championship, 3-2 (23-25, 24-26, 25-21, 25-23, 17-15), in a dramatic league final. Seymour then responded by winning its next four matches to take the Class M crown. Look for those two teams to headline the drive to the NVL playoffs again this year.

Players to Watch: Lindsey Abramson, Cheshire; Zoe DiZenzo, Amity; Juliet Young, Guilford; Emma Appleman, Guliford; Reem Abdel-Hack, Shelton; Jessica Foss, Shelton

Outlook: Cheshire and Amity have combined to win the last eight SCC championships, with the final featuring a head-to-head match-up five times. They're again favorites to reach the title tilt, although Guilford and Shelton will likely have a say in the matter.

Outlook: The Shoreline champion Bellringers came one step away from reaching the Class S final where they were eliminated by ECC Div. II champ Lyman Memorial. Both East Hampton and Coginchaug, which lost in the Class S second round, will be in the hunt for the Shoreline title again this fall.

Players to Watch: Katharine Anderson, Weston; Kayleigh Emanuelson, Barlow; Genevieve Murray, Newtown

Outlook: The Joel Barlow train keeps on rolling, as the Falcons won their seventh consecutive SWC crown before moving on to defeat Woodstock Academy 3-2 in the Class L final. Barlow is strong yet again, although Newtown, the runner-up for three straight seasons, and Weston are among the teams which could knock the Falcons off their perch.

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