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Wildcats make grade

Williamsport's volleyball team completed a three-year course in championship volleyball by winning the Maryland Class 1A title.

Williamsport's volleyball team completed a three-year course in championship volleyball by winning the Maryland Class 1A title.

November 18, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

CATONSVILLE, Md. - It is said that every championship team goes through a learning and growing process before it can accomplish great things. Williamsport's 2002 volleyball team was no different.

The Wildcats won the Maryland Class 1A state title for the first time since 1999 on Saturday afternoon, defeating Poolesville 15-6, 15-7, 7-15, 15-9. It was a championship three years in the making - three years in which Williamsport's measuring stick was rival Smithsburg.

The Wildcats lost to the Leopards in the Class 1A West regional final in 2000, the first of five straight losses to Smithsburg. Three of those losses came in 2001, including a five-set thriller in that year's 1A championship match in which the Wildcats rallied from down two games to tie it before running out of gas in Game 5.

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Both Smithsburg and Williamsport were undefeated heading into the first contest between the schools this season on Sept. 30. Once again, the Leopards had the Wildcats' number, sweeping them in three games as Williamsport's passing game and confidence faltered.

Eleven days later, everything changed.

In their home gym Oct. 10, the Wildcats ended their five-game losing streak to the Leopards in convincing fashion, playing near-flawless volleyball to turn the tables around and gain a sweep of their own.

The win ultimately gave Williamsport the Monocacy Valley Athletic League crown, but more importantly, it gave the Wildcats the confidence they needed.

"That Smithsburg game was the best we played all season," senior Denise Sullivan said. "It showed us we could do anything if we played like we can."

"It showed the girls if we executed well, we could beat a good, solid team," coach Kristi Gee said. "It gave the girls an inner sense knowing if they got in a mental zone, they could play with anybody. It gave them a confidence boost they needed at that time."

Williamsport entered the playoffs as the top seed in the West Region and breezed all the way to the state championship game without dropping a game.

Expecting to see Smithsburg once again in the final, the Wildcats instead came across a hungry Poolesville team which defeated the Leopards in the 1A South regional final, ending Smithsburg's two-year reign as state champions.

"We didn't know what to expect, but they did beat Smithsburg, so they had to be as good as Smithsburg was," senior Meggie Miller said.

"We had a lot of respect for them," junior Lindsey Plotner said. "When they came out (in warmups), we knew they were ready to play."

So was Williamsport. Calling on lessons learned over the past three years, the Wildcats played aggressively while, with the exception of Game 3 (the only game Williamsport lost in the playoffs), limiting their mistakes.

The final result -- a state title to finally call its own - was a long time coming for Williamsport, but one that, regardless of the opponent, was as satisfying as expected.

"We didn't play Smithsburg in the final like we expected," Miller said, "but it feels so good to be a state champion."

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