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HCC Hawks need a fast start at volleyball nationals

November 14, 2007|By DAN KAUFFMAN

The Hagerstown Community College volleyball team enters play Thursday at the NJCAA Division II National Championships at Scottdale (Ariz.) Community College after a 17-day layoff, and there's no time for the Hawks to shake off any rust.

Once a 12-team tournament with three pools of four teams each - in which a team could slip up once or maybe even twice and still have a chance to regroup and win it all - this year's tournament features 16 teams, with the title to be decided by single elimination.

"There are no warmup games at nationals, and I think that will be good for us," Hawks coach Beth Domenico said last week. "They know they have to go out and lay it all out there."

HCC (40-4), ranked eighth in the nation and seeded eighth in the tournament, faces ninth-seed Longview (35-7) Thursday at 2 p.m. If the Hawks win, they'll likely face top-seed and defending champion Kishwaukee (52-2) in the quarterfinals at 8:30.

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Domenico is confident the time off won't be a factor.

"We've given the girls some days off, and the girls have embraced those days and come back full throttle," she said. "I think we've had the right amount of practice. ... Our practices have been very focused."

The Hawks have been led all year by sophomore setter Jess Ambrose, a Boonsboro graduate who ranks second nationally in assists with 12.31 per game, and freshman Magda Tekiel, a native of Warsaw, Poland, who leads the nation with 5.49 kills per game from her left side hitting spot.

But if HCC wants to make noise at nationals, everyone else will have to be at the top of their games, including Ashley Arentz (2.84 kills per game), Nikki Wirth (2.08 kills), Caitlyn Selby (2.02 kills), Brittany Horn (1.88 kills), Kira Brooks-Ford (1.46 kills) and Kierra Nelson (1.29 kills).

"Magda, Jess, Kim (Snavely) and Ashley, they're our constants," Domenico said. "It's going to be our middles who have to step up, Brittany and Kierra, and they've gotten so much better. I think they're going to be pivotal players."

Facing the nation's top attacking teams, the Hawks' defense will be put to the test. Snavely anchors the back row with her 5.05 digs per game, but it's at the net where HCC's blocking game - the team's one weak spot this season - will have to find a way to take some of the steam out of the opposition.

"That was my main concern. Every year we go with a small setter and they wind up hitting over her and we've had no answer," Domenico said. "We just put in a new blocking scheme - we're going to cheat over to the outside more - and we hope that will help take care of it. That was one of the good things about such a long break, we had time to do that."

The Hawks have no choice but to answer all questions quickly if their dreams of winning a national championship are to be realized.

"The first five points of the first game will tell a lot," Domenico said. "Immediately, we have to get our confidence up."

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