Re: rookie needs some help
You will get plenty of suggestions, but the reality is that you are best off casting a few. The one that casts best for you will be the one you want. For example, my girlfriend fishes medium to medium fast trout rods. I fish mostly fast rods. We both have quality rods, but we need to make adjustments to fish each other's gear.
Hopefully you have a retailer that will allow you to cast a few. As for brands, Redington, TFO, and Ross seem to be the most competitive at the price point you are looking for.
Good luck with your search.