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Hawks earn trip back to Ohio

November 10, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

For the second straight November, Hagerstown Community College's volleyball team has soared into the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.

This time, the Hawks hope to have more than one wing healthy for the landing.

What should have been an enjoyable culmination to a successful 2003 season instead turned sour when Megan Miller - the MVP of last year's Region XX Tournament - was forced to watch from the bench with a foot injury. Without her, the Hawks were swept in their two pool-play games and left Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, unsatisfied.

"It was extremely tough," said Miller, a star on Williamsport High School's 2002 state championship team. "I hate not playing."

"We all want to try to erase the memories of last year," said Keri Jackson, a 2003 Hedgesville High graduate who helped the Eagles win a West Virginia state title in 2002. "That was tough. (Megan) is a key player and we have to have her out there."

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Barring more bad luck, Miller will join Jackson and the rest of the Hawks (29-6) as they open pool play Thursday afternoon against Illinois Central at 4:30. HCC plays Kirkwood Friday at noon.

"I want them all to have fun, but especially the sophomores," Hawks coach Beth Domenico said of Miller, Jackson and Ashley Michael, a Grace Academy graduate. "I want them to go down there, have fun and take control like they did at regionals."

HCC defeated Catonsville in the Region XX final on Oct. 30 to earn a trip to Toledo. In a role reversal, Jackson won tournament MVP honors this time, while Miller was named to the first team.

It's not all about the two stars from 2003, however. Defensive specialist Savanah Wetzel, a 2004 Waynesboro graduate who has been through the wars of the Mid-Penn Conference, earned Region XX second-team honors, while setter Staci Grabill, a 2004 Williamsport graduate who was part of the Wildcats' second straight state title in 2003, earned honorable mention.

"At the beginning of the year, Keri and Megan, it was all about them," Domenico said. "As the season has gone on, the whole team has come together. Everybody feels they are part of our wins now. (Staci) has definitely built her confidence up through the year, and (Savanah's) defense is phenomenal in the back row. Nobody on our team can play defense and pass like her."

"(Savanah) is definitely an asset for the team this year," Miller said. "Keri and I can play defense, but as far as a specialist goes, having her back there, it's amazing. Any ball she can get to."

The Hawks have another source from which they can draw confidence. At an early-season tournament, HCC played St. Clair - the top-ranked team at nationals - extremely close in a 30-28 loss.

"St. Clair is the top seed, and we were competitive with them," Domenico said. "That's the type of competition we'll see there, and they know what they can do against it."

"Being able to get 28 points and stay in range with the best team in the nation, it shows we can run with the big dogs and hang with them," Jackson said. "We also know there are other teams that have played them close, but we know we can play with the competition."

The 12-team tournament is broken into four three-team pools, with the top two in each pool making the eight-team, single-elimination bracket that will decide the champion.

"A realistic goal is to make it to the final eight. That would be great," Jackson said. "If we get farther than that, that would be great too. I know if we get there, we're not stopping."

For sure, this trip to nationals figures to be better for Miller, who has an opportunity to erase the bad memories of 2003.

"Last year I was just able to watch," Miller said. "This year, I'll be able to contribute and put my heart and soul into it."

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