When it comes to volleyball in the Suburban League National Conference, it's a battle for second place.
At least that's the way Cuyahoga Falls' sixth-year head coach Josh Stewart is looking at it.
"I think Brecksville wins the league by three or four games this year if they stay injury free," said Stewart, who is 45-72 at Falls and 96-137 during his 10-year coaching career.
"They had a very young core last year that was already really good. I think they will have a shot a state final-four berth as well."
The Lady Black Tigers have a long way to go if they want to compete with the powerful Lady Bees.
Falls finished 7-16 overall and 3-11 in the National Conference. The Lady Black Tigers' 2015 season came to an end after falling to Kent Roosevelt 25-14, 25-12, 25-23 in a Division I sectional title contest.
Falls also was hit hard by graduation.
Setter Lexy Dieterich, right-side hitter Shelby Dieterich, outside hitter Madi Oplinger, middle hitter Brooke Crawford, libero Kellie Roy, outside hitter/defensive specialist Victoria Bell and defensive specialist Lindsey Bechter.
Fortunately, Stewart's top player is back in the mix.
Senior outside hitter Emma Freeman is the lone returning letter winner from 2015.
"Emma is our leader in all facets," Stewart said. "We're looking for her to have a really good season statistically and she's going to be integral in getting the team prepared for the back half of the season and hopefully, to make a deep playoff run."
The junior class features middle hitters Emina Celic and Lexi Howard, defensive specialist Abigail Kubasek, right-side hitter Gillian Leimeister, right-side hitter/middle hitter Hannah Merten, setter Rebecca Postlewaite and outside hitter Jacquelyn Shields.
The junior varsity coach is Lisa Wood and Courtney Marcucci is the freshman coach.
Stewart plans to utilize a 6-2 offense.
"We're looking to be as well-balanced as possible so we can spread the floor and the defense," he said. "I think our strength will be in our blocking once we get our newbies adjusted to the pace of play."
While Brecksville is the overwhelming favorite, there are other strong teams in the National Conference, according to Stewart.
"North Royalton is the wild card in our league because they are always loaded, but I heard a couple of their kids moved out of the district," Stewart said. "I think, based on what I know about who graduated or didn't come back, that the rest of the league will be beating up on each other for the last six spots.
"Stow had a young team last year, as well, so they could make a push to be in the top three if they solidified their setter position."
With all the new faces in the lineup, the Lady Black Tigers probably won't be a stalwart in the early stages of the season.
"We're going to take some lumps early on until we can adjust to the speed of the teams in our league," Stewart said. "We have more height than we've had in the past and some athletic kids that need some time to get their feet wet at the varsity level.
"Barring any major catastrophes, I'm optimistic about where we're going to be by the end of September and early October."
Falls was scheduled to host Suburban League crossover rival Kent Aug. 20. Results were not available at press time.
The Lady Black Tigers are set to visit Green Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m. before returning home to play Firestone Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.