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Title becomes 'Cats' meow

November 16, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - There was nothing easy about Williamsport's second straight Maryland Class 1A volleyball title.

Poolesville - which put up little resistance in the Wildcats' 15-6, 15-7, 7-15, 15-9 victory in the final last season - pushed Williamsport to the breaking point Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats had to come from behind in the fifth game to squeak out a 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 21-25, 15-12 nailbiter against the much-improved Falcons at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland.

"Any time you play your heart out and come away with a win, it feels better," Williamsport coach Emily Crabtree said. "I think it does mean a little more to them, because they know they had to earn it."

The Wildcats were on their heels all afternoon thanks to the unorthodox and relentless attack of Poolesville. The Falcons threw so many different looks at Williamsport, you'd have thought their coach was a hair stylist.

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"You had no idea where the ball was going," Williamsport senior Katie Saufley said. "You were watching the ball all the time, and you had to stay on your toes. It was crazy out there."

Led by its only senior, Katie Kuhn, and junior setter Maureen DuVall, Poolesville did several things Williamsport had not seen this season.

On several occasions, DuVall took a pass and instead of setting someone else up, twisted and fired off a kill attempt of her own against Williamsport's off-balance defense.

Kuhn's free balls were anything but, as she ripped the ball hard toward the back corners from anywhere and everywhere on the court.

"We've never seen a setter like that," Wildcats junior Beth Ryan said. "We've never seen someone (make a kill attempt) on a second touch like that. We had to stay on our toes the entire time, because we never knew where (the ball) was going to go. It screws you up mentally and physically."

Add in DuVall's short sets for Inge Rasmussen and her towering sets to outside hitter Jackie Reed, and it was enough to keep the Wildcats scrambling.

"I knew they were going to give us fits with their dumps and tips, because we haven't played a team like that," Crabtree said. "It was kind of like a roller coaster ride."

To Williamsport's credit, the Wildcats made the plays and scored the points they needed to in the first and third games, before surviving a tense fifth game.

In Game 1, Ryan's five straight service points gave Williamsport a 24-20 lead. Poolesville made three errors in the run and Ryan set up Staci Grabill for a kill, but the biggest play of the game was Ryan's turning the tables on Poolesville with her own second-touch tip from the setter's position, catching the Falcons completely off-guard for a 24-20 lead.

"I was so nervous coming into the game," said Ryan, who had struggled prior to the play. "I had never played at states, never even seen states, so (the tip) pulled it together for me."

Two points later, Grabill set up Saufley outside for a kill attempt that glanced off the Poolesville block and won the game for the Wildcats.

"I've never hit so hard in my life," Saufley said. "You don't know how excited I was."

After the Falcons won Game 2, Kris Weir's six-point serving run - including four aces - gave Williamsport a 17-8 lead in Game 3. Poolesville cut the lead all the way down to 23-22, but a Falcons error gave the Wildcats match point, and Weir's kill of a bad Poolesville pass finished the game.

"Everybody chipped in," Crabtree said. "It was six people coming together and doing whatever was needed to get the point, whether we needed a serve, a block, whatever."

Saturday's final was the first time Williamsport was pushed to five games this season.

"We did not have to do that all year," Crabtree said. "We had not gone five games, and I told them I want to see what they're made of."

The answer: The stuff of champions.

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