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Spotted howl - Leopards scream for joy after showing Blazers who's boss

November 04, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

CLEAR SPRING - When two of this season's three co-MVAL Antietam volleyball champions met Monday night in the Maryland Class 1A West quarterfinals, it meant either No. 3-seed Clear Spring or No. 6-seed Smithsburg was going to have its season ended much earlier than it hoped.

But that's not what the Leopards were focused on. They knew they'd lost to the Blazers four straight times, including a 3-1 setback at home earlier this year and a sweep on Clear Spring's floor in last year's 1A West first round. Back at the scene of that playoff disappointment, Smithsburg wasn't about to repeat it.

Sara Rishell had nine kills and 10 blocks, and Taylor Belella had 20 assists and 12 digs as the Leopards turned the tables on the Blazers, rolling to a 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 sweep and setting up a semifinal showdown at Fort Hill on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

"We've lost to them so many times that words can't describe this," said Rishell. "In the past, like when we played them before (this season), we didn't finish. So we really focused on finishing the games strong, and it was just our time."

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"What a difference a year makes," Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear said. "Last year we came in here and lost in three (games), and they remembered what that felt like. These girls were determined to win. We were down in all three games and they refused to lose tonight."

Clear Spring (13-3) held leads of 22-19 in Game 1, 18-14 in Game 2 and 19-16 and 24-23 in Game 3. But Smithsburg (11-5) was better when it mattered most, closing Game 1 with a 6-0 run, Game 2 with an 11-1 run and Game 3 with the final three points.

The Blazers hurt themselves in Game 1 with errant passes, many of which led to Smithsburg blocks as Rishell had five stuffs and Colleen Black added four in the game. Black was the centerpiece of Smithsburg's late run, putting down a kill for the Leopards' 21st point and blocking points 22, 24 and 25.

"We work a lot on anticipating what could unfold on any given play, if they miss a pass or a set or a ball comes off a block or is tipped," Brashear said. "I really stress that in practice, and it all comes down to focus."

Game 2 changed dramatically when Nikki Siefert stepped to the service line with Smithsburg trailing 18-15. She reeled off nine straight points, including two aces, as the Leopards raced past the Blazers, who committed 13 errors in the game. Rishell had two kills and four blocks, and Siefert added two kills.

"I'm close friends with Rachel and we hated to face each other this early, but we both said that whoever wins, the other would be cheering them on," Clear Spring coach Kim Malphurs said. "Rachel's a heck of a coach and her girls stepped up. Their middles and defense were great tonight, and it often comes down to who makes fewer mistakes and that definitely was not us tonight."

Game 3 was the best of the match, as the Blazers cleaned their game up and came out firing, led by Amanda Jenkins (four kills), Lily Pinkham (three kills, block), Lindsay Lacy (three kills) and Emily Pinkham (two kills, two blocks).

But the Leopards were up to the task again, led by Belella's seven assists and Rishell's five kills. Belella's kill gave Smithsburg a 21-20 lead and her ace five points later tied the game at 23. Rishell's final kill gave Smithsburg a 24-23 lead, and after Lacy's final kill tied the game at 24, two Clear Spring errors gave the Leopards the match.

"After every big play, my adrenaline kept rushing. It definitely felt good to beat a good team," Belella said. "After this win, we know we can beat any team we face in the region, because Clear Spring might be the best team in the region we face."

"We'll take this and celebrate it tonight, but tomorrow it's over and we're back in the gym getting better," Brashear said. "These girls want it. They're hungry for it."

Siefert finished with six aces and four kills, Black had four kills and four blocks and Mollie Kieffer added 11 digs for Smithsburg.

Jenkins finished with nine kills and eight digs to lead the Blazers. Katie Blickenstaff had 11 assists and Megan Micco had 10, while Emily Pinkham had five kills, four blocks and four aces, Lacy had seven kills and Lily Pinkham had four kills and two aces.

By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Smithsburg's Sara Rishell (11) lets out a yell in celebration with teammate Taylor Belella on Monday after the Leopards won the second game in their three-game sweep of Clear Spring in the Maryland Class 1A West quarterfinals.

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