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Leopards make a 'state'ment in sweep of Blazers

October 08, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

SMITHSBURG -- Thirty minutes before the start of the Clear Spring-Smithsburg varsity volleyball match Thursday night, there wasn't a parking spot or a seat in the Leopards' gym to be had.

It took Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear back to her senior year.

"We haven't had a crowd like that in a long time. It reminded me of 1998 when I played," Brashear said. "It was a state championship atmosphere."

The Leopards won the Maryland Class 1A state title that year, and on Dig Pink night for breast cancer awareness, Smithsburg sure looked like a state championship team once again.

Sara Rishell had 23 kills and six blocks, Taylor Belella had 29 assists and the Leopards swept Clear Spring 25-19, 25-18, 26-24 to remain undefeated in an MVAL Antietam clash.

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"This is a really big win for us. One year ago on this date, our last home loss was against them, so we wanted to beat them," Rishell said. "Clear Spring is a great team, and to beat them in three games is huge."

"We beat them in the playoffs (last year), and we knew they would want to come in here and pay us back, but we had payback in mind, too," Brashear said. "Beating them in three is a great night for Smithsburg volleyball."

It was clear early in Game 1 that Smithsburg (10-0, 5-0) was on a mission and Clear Spring (7-2, 4-1), though playing well, was a little overmatched.

Rishell had eight kills and a block as the Leopards raced to a 21-12 lead. The Blazers mounted a 7-1 run to cut the lead to 23-19, but a Colleen Black kill and a Mallory Petty ace finished the game for Smithsburg.

It was much of the same in the second and third games. The Leopards used a six-point run to take a 20-12 lead in Game 2, and a 9-4 run gave them an 18-11 lead in Game 3.

"We feed off everybody in the gym. When we're up and the stands are up, we feed off that, and the crowd was awesome tonight," Rishell said. "I know how we can play, and we played that way tonight. To see the real Smithsburg team out there is just extraordinary."

"When they're on, they're hard to beat," Clear Spring coach Kim Malphurs said. "You can't make mistakes."

Belella was particularly impressive in Game 2. In addition to nine assists, she had two aces and two heads-up kills.

"Taylor played great tonight," Brashear said. "She was a leader and ran the show, and as a coach I love it when they are self-sufficient and I don't have to say anything."

The Blazers made 24 errors to the Leopards' 23, and most of the mistakes were aggressive hitting errors. The bigger issue for Clear Spring was Smithsburg's block, with Rishell and Black -- both 6-foot-2 -- making life tough. Lily Pinkham had success with 15 kills, but the rest of the Blazers had some trouble.

"That's a mental thing, seeing the wall and trying to hit over the block, which isn't going to happen," Malphurs said. "They didn't make smart hitting decisions, they needed to hit at angles and stay away from the middle block. The serve receive and serving were decent, but finishing points, we were struggling everywhere other than Pinkham."

Clear Spring did make an impressive rally to make Game 3 close, tying the match twice at 20 and at 24. Rishell stepped up with a kill and a block to finish off the Blazers.

"The comebacks in each game were nice to see," Malphurs said. "That, to me, is a positive sign."

Black finished with seven kills, Danielle Beaver had 12 digs and Katie Sprecher and Paige Decker each added nine digs for Smithsburg.

Hannah House had six kills and two blocks, Lindsey Lacy had six kills, Megan Micco had 27 assists and Sarah Elwood added 11 digs for Clear Spring.

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