• FAVORITE: Kentwood.

• CONTENDERS: Auburn Riverside, Kentlake.

• SLEEPER: Kentridge.

• OUTLOOK: If possible, the North is loaded more than ever this season. While plenty of that is due to the year-in, year-out success of Kentlake and Kentwood, the addition of Auburn Riverside — coinciding with the subtraction of Decatur — has given the division an even bigger boost. There are no gimmes on any team’s schedule. Kentwood enters the season as the North’s consensus favorite, having won the previous three league titles. Rest assured, however, the Conquerors will be plenty tested, particularly by Auburn Riverside, which took second in Class 3A a year ago. The Ravens return three all-leaguers, led by junior Brooke Bray, one of the most powerful hitters in the state. But Auburn Riverside will have its hands full trying to plug the hole left by exchange student Dominika Kristinikova, the MVP of SPSL 3A in 2007. After Auburn Riverside, look out for Kentlake, a team always heavy on tradition and talent. The Falcons graduated second-teamers Kathy Taylor and Amelia Hilsen, but return first-teamer Melissa Kozy, who is capable of lifting the team on her back in short spurts. After The Big Three, Kentridge has the tools to do some damage, particularly with first-teamer Ashley Nguyen back in fold. Nguyen ranked second in the North in kills a year ago and, like Kozy, is capable of carrying the Chargers at times. Meanwhile, Kent-Meridian took a solid step up a year ago, winning four league contests, and returns a solid cast of four starters, led by honorable mention selection McKaley Brewer. Expect Auburn, back up from 3A with Auburn Riverside, and Tahoma to be the division’s dark horses. The Trojans have some solid building blocks with honorable mention selection Sierra Atkinson in fold to go along with Skyler Atkinson and Michelle Ernsdorff. The Bears find themselves in a similar boat and will be led by senior setter MacKenzie Cles.

• NOTABLE: With the addition of Auburn and Auburn Riverside, the schedule is decidedly different this season. Instead of two league matches between each school, teams will face off just once in league play, putting a premium on each win. ... Three players from Kentwood’s 2007 team are now playing in college: Bre Boyce (UPS), Alison Fairchild (Western Washington) and Savannah Feist (Bellevue CC). ... Kentwood (third) and Auburn Riverside (second at the Class 3A level) are the only teams to have placed at state last year. ... Auburn’s Ashley Parries, a second-team outside hitter last year, is now playing at Green River. ... The North Division returns a total of nine players who earned all-league honors a year ago. Add in Auburn and Auburn Riverside and that number swells to 14. ... Three players from Tahoma’s 2007 team are now playing in college: Meagan Ganzer (Washington State), Kaytlyn Aust (University of North Dakota) and Tori Dudley (George Mason).

• CIRCLE THE CALENDAR: Oct. 8, Kentwood at Kentridge — The league favorite (Kentwood) against a team on the rise. Oct. 14, Kentridge at Kentlake — They fought all of last year for second place in the division. Both are playoff contenders, making this a must-see. Oct. 16, Kentwood at Auburn Riverside — Auburn Riverside was the last North Division team to knock off Kentwood. Can the Ravens do it again? Oct. 27, Kentlake at Kentwood — The regular-season finale. Tradition, bragging rights and the North title could be on the line. Nov. 1, SPSL tournament at Kentwood High — In a division loaded like the North, this is a chance to see everyone on display.

— Erick Walker/The Reporter

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