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Wildcats defend title

November 16, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

Of the 214 points played between Williamsport and Poolesville in the Maryland Class 1A state volleyball championship game Saturday afternoon, these seven were the ones that saved the Wildcats' title dreams.

With the teams having split four games already and with Poolesville leading 11-7 in a race to 15 that would decide everything, Williamsport senior Staci Grabill stepped to the service line at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland.

Seven points later, the Wildcats had a 14-11 lead and were moments away from a thrilling 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 21-25, 15-12 victory for their second consecutive state title.

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"The mood before (the run), we were all nervous and it felt like we were falling apart," Grabill said. "As it went on, as we were scoring points, we knew we could do this.

"It was definitely the toughest match I've been in my whole life. We're not used to losing games and we got a little scared, but we pulled through."

Here's how Williamsport - which finished 19-1 and was perfect in non-tournament games - did it:

  • Showing no nerves whatsoever, Grabill's first serve dipped in front of Poolesville's defense for an ace that made it 11-8 and put the first signs of life into the Wildcats.

  • On the next point, Grabill set up senior Lindsey Plotner - the team's top hitting threat - on a short ball, and Plotner finished the kill to make it 11-9.

  • Poolesville (16-3) - which lost in last year's title game to Williamsport - started showing signs of feeling the pressure when Katie Kuhn's kill attempt from behind the 10-foot line failed to get over the net, making it 11-10.

    "Once we started taking the lead, we knew they were the ones who had the pressure on them," Grabill said.

  • Beth Ryan's kill attempt on the next point hit the top of the net, bounced up and over and found a soft spot in Poolesville's defense to tie the game 11-11. Suddenly, the Wildcats had all the momentum.

    "(The mood) completely changed," Plotner said. "I know some of us felt we were down and it was all over. I'm glad a couple players picked us up and got us going."

    "Any time you can get momentum on your side, it's a definite plus in volleyball," Williamsport coach Emily Crabtree said. "Once you get on a roll, it's contagious. They didn't give up even though they were down."

  • The Wildcats took the lead on the next point, a long rally in which both teams made a couple outstanding digs to extend play. Finally, Grabill set up Plotner on another short ball, and Plotner's kill attempt hit the top of the net and - you guessed it - bounced over and found a soft spot.

    "When you're in a game that's that close, every break that goes your way is usually a point," Crabtree said, "and we needed them."

  • Grabill's next serve down the left side could not be handled by Poolesville, resulting in her second ace of the run.

  • Finally, Sammi Snodderly's kill from the left side clipped the net and - what else? - landed just inside the line for the final point in the run.

    Plotner hit a kill attempt into the net on Williamsport's first match point, making it 14-12 and giving serve back to Poolesville. But the Cavaliers' serve on the next point failed to clear the net, and the Wildcats had successfully defended their title.

    "They didn't want to lose," Crabtree said, "and they showed that in the fifth game."

    Williamsport won its 10th state volleyball title in school history, tied with Centennial for the most in the state. The Wildcats were making their 16th appearance in the final.

    "We were getting down, and we managed to pull it together and pull it off somehow," senior Katie Saufley said. "I've never been a part of something like that before."

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