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Experience is key for Applemen

October 06, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's not hard to understand why Musselman has been The Herald-Mail's No. 1-ranked team all season and is currently third in the West Virginia Regional Sports Network's Class AAA state poll.

It's all about experience.

With a core group of four players - seniors Alyse Custer, Megan Holmes, Danielle Felicio and Stephanie Wood - who have been to the state tournament each of the past two seasons, and several others who were part of last year's run to the state quarterfinals, the Applemen have a stranglehold on Apple Valley League and Eastern Panhandle bragging rights and may soon have a similar deathlock on the entire state.

"We have four girls who have been to the state tournament two years, and it's immeasurable how that experience helps you," Musselman coach Shawn Martz said.

Custer (3.33 kills per game), Holmes (2.47 KPG) and Wood (1.82 KPG) anchor the Applemen's attack, which doesn't end there - junior Katie Kees chips in 1.46 kills per game and 6-foot sophomore Erica Manor made her presence felt on Tuesday against rival Hedgesville with 10 kills.

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Forget stopping Musselman's offense ... opposing defenses can barely contemplate containing it.

"That's the big thing. We have such balance, we can throw four real experienced hitters out there," Martz said. "Add Manor into the mix, and you try to stop one player and we get it to someone else."

Junior setter Chelsea Wheaton is in charge of running the offense, having done so since the start of last season. She's second in the area in assists per game with her 7.23 average, trailing only Hedgesville's Virginia Rogus (9.90).

"(Her position) is probably the most important," Martz said. "She mixes it up real well. Against Hedgesville, we had three hitters in double digits. She does a good job finding the hot hitter. She's also our best server and a dynamic defensive player."

All that offense has proven to be too much for the No. 6 Eagles twice, although Hedgesville - ranked fourth in Class AAA by WVRSN - put up more resistance Tuesday than it did on Sept. 5, when the Eagles were swept, 25-15, 25-22, 25-14. Hedgesville managed to take a game from the Applemen on Tuesday, though Musselman turned it up a notch in the end to prevail, 25-18, 21-25, 25-20, 25-13.

"It's huge every time we play them," Martz said. "We don't need any extra motivation when we play them, a lot of our kids were here when they were beating us every time. They're ranked fourth for a reason. We were expecting a tough match and they played a lot better than the first time."

The Applemen are used to playing West Virginia's best, thanks to an upgraded schedule that has them traveling across the state for major tournaments. Musselman split with George Washington, the state's top-ranked Class AAA team, in last Saturday's Capital Classic, and holds a convincing 25-10, 25-18 victory over Parkersburg, ranked second in Class AAA, in the Oak Glen Tournament on Sept. 2.

"We really wanted to upgrade our schedule and get to see those teams," Martz said.

The Capital Classic held a fair share of disappointment for the Eagles, though. They fell to unranked Wheeling Park and No. 10-ranked Cabell Midland.

"We didn't play as well at the Capital Classic as we can," Martz said. "But even though we were disappointed, it gave our kids confidence that we can play with them if we face them in the playoffs.

"I just think we need to come out and be more consistent. We play at a high level and then get comfortable and don't play as well, so we're going to make it a goal to peak at the end of the season. I really think this year we'll be more relaxed and more comfortable, having played good teams all season long."

Games to watch this week

Williamsport (5-4) at Clear Spring (3-4), Wednesday - The Blazers pulled off arguably the season's biggest upset when they knocked off the Wildcats in Williamsport in a five-game thriller on Sept. 19.

No. 3 Greencastle (11-1) at No. 5 James Buchanan (8-2), Thursday - The Blue Devils edged the Rockets at home in five games on Sept. 19; this is JB's chance to even the score.

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