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'Cats go for 3-peat

November 20, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - When you think about it, the Williamsport volleyball team is like Thanksgiving turkey.

Both have become traditional late November mainstays before entering December with many great, fulfilling memories.

The Wildcats competing for - and winning - a Maryland Class 1A state title has become almost as annual an event as turkey and stuffing on the last Thursday in November. The latest helping of championship volleyball comes today when Williamsport attempts to win its third consecutive crown today at 5 p.m. against Elkton at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum.

"Winning is very important to us because of the tradition and we want to live up to the expectations," said Williamsport junior setter Lea Drury after the Wildcats defeated Poolesville on Wednesday to advance to the finals.

When it comes to volleyball, Williamsport is like an elephant. It remembers its championships forever. The Wildcats are making their 18th appearance in the state tournament. November volleyball in Williamsport is like October baseball in New York City.

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"The tradition started in 1981 when Cindy Neugebauer put Williamsport on the map," Wildcats coach Emily Crabtree said. "The girls love to play and love to win. It is almost born into them. The tradition is real. They want to keep it going and they don't want it to stop."

Even Crabtree has to scratch her head a little when it comes to thinking about state tournament losses. Crabtree is in the second year of her second stint as Williamsport's coach. She, too, has won consecutive state titles - last year was her first year back since 1995, when she went out as a winner.

"In 1994, we played Clear Spring in the finals and they beat us," Crabtree said. "I know what losing feels like and I don't really like it. But this group has been successful their whole careers and I hope they stay that way."

The Wildcats enter the final with a 17-1 record, but their progress has been unconventional by Williamsport standards. Past teams have been tall and overpowered their opponents.

This year's Wildcats are younger, smaller and scrap for victories, outsmarting the opposition along the way.

They do it while carrying the Williamsport banner every step of the way.

"It all goes back to the tradition," Crabtree said. "But I told them that if we don't win the state championship, it doesn't mean that we weren't successful. If we go out and play our hearts out and come out on the short end, we'll still wake up again tomorrow. We've still won 18 region titles and that's something. But if we play our hearts out and go for every ball, things will take care of themselves. It has worked out that way so far this year."

With eight of its 12 players standing 5-foot-5 and under, Williamsport has used deceiving jumping ability to shut down opponents. With eight of the 12 players in their junior year, they have used their volleyball upbringing to prepare them for Elkton and everyone else.

"A lot of this tradition starts at the middle school feeder system," Crabtree said. "I had a big experience with this junior class when I was helping out when they were eighth graders. I could see things to come. It was fun to see them as they refined their skills. I sort of had high expectations for them."

Sammi Snodderly, a 5-7 junior, has had a large impact on the Wildcats' traditional march. She is averaging close to four kills per game and had 13 against Poolesville. The biggest one came on match point, when Snodderly spiked off the block of the Falcons' front line for a 25-23 Game 4 victory.

Emily Malott is the tallest of the Wildcats at 5-10 and leads the team with about a block per game.

"Emily has done a great job this year, but she has bigger things coming ahead," Crabtree said. "She's doing what we wanted, getting better as the season has gone on. And Sammi ... She's strong. What can you say? She's done a lot."

Lacie Johnson is one of the Wildcats' best jumpers at 5-5 and puts down 2.65 kills per game, while Drury and Beth Ryan combine on the setting duties, anchoring the offense.

Williamsport will face another taller team in Elkton (16-3), but the Wildcats are leary of the leaping and hitting ability of 5-2 Brittany Fleming.

Still, Williamsport will be more concerned about its side of the net when it comes to trying to seal its third straight state title.

"If they go and play our game, there is a state title on the line," Crabtree said. "They will give it their all. They are really relaxed. Everyone thinks we are going to win. A lot of people expect it. If we do lose, we will be disappointed, but we'll come back next year."

That's because winning the title and holding the trophy is nice, but there are more important things in Williamsport volleyball.

"Tradition is more important than the title," Crabtree said. "You can't overlook it. If we lose, the tradition here isn't going to stop. It will keep on going."

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