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Leopards scrub Hubs to win title

October 27, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

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    Smithsburg's final victory in an undefeated regular season did not come easily Tuesday night. North Hagerstown made sure of that.

    The Hubs played spectacular volleyball -- coach Megan Crawford called it "the best we've played all season" -- but in the end, the Leopards' explosive offense did just enough to pull out a tense 25-23, 25-21, 17-25, 25-21 victory in the MVAL Antietam and wrap up the league championship.

    "North gave us all we could handle tonight," Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear said. "North had our backs against the wall a lot tonight. We had to battle, and it was a great win for us. It was good that we had to fight and keep our composure."

    Smithsburg (14-0, 7-0) clinched the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class 1A West playoffs because Fort Hill suffered its first loss of the season on Tuesday against Thomas Johnson in four games.

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North (10-4, 4-3) had lost three of its previous four matches after a 9-0 start to the season, but the Hubs came to play on Senior Night. They made just 16 errors compared to 36 for the Leopards.

"I hope it carries over to the playoffs," Crawford said. "They know now they can play at that high a level, and they did it consistently tonight."

Smithsburg overcame its mistakes with its attacking power and depth. Sara Rishell had her usual monster night with 29 kills and four blocks, and Katie Sprecher and Colleen Black each added 14 kills. Taylor Belella had 57 assists orchestrating the offense.

"I've never been on a team that's been undefeated before. To play on a team with this skill level is amazing," Belella said. "I know I can give it to anyone on offense and they can put it down. In pressure situations, we usually play our best games."

"Taylor played a great match tonight," Brashear said. "She hustled and put the ball right on the money, and always went to the right hitter."

The Leopards finished with 61 kills and 10 aces as a team, compared to 43 kills and four aces for the Hubs, and that was just enough to offset the difference in errors.

Megan Plume had 42 assists to lead the Hubs' attack. Akilah McCall and Anna Wade each had 15 kills as Plume's main targets, and Rachel Ober (five kills), Peyton Wallech (four kills) and Autumn Fisher (four kills) each chipped in.

"We've been moving the ball around and Megan has been distributing it better," Crawford said.

Game 1 was a microcosm of the entire match, with North committing just three errors to Smithsburg's nine, but the Leopards coming up with 17 kills to the Hubs' 11. Rishell was at her best with 10 kills and three blocks, and produced Smithsburg's final four points with a block and three kills as the Leopards battled back from a 20-17 hole with an 8-3 run to close the game.

Smithsburg took control of Game 2 with an 8-1 run to turn a 14-12 deficit into a 22-15 lead. Sprecher had three kills in the run, most of which happened with Rishell -- who had nine more kills in the game -- in the back row.

The Leopards fell apart in the middle of Game 3, making five errors in the Hubs' 8-0 run that increased a 14-12 lead to 22-12. North also outhit Smithsburg in the game, making 11 kills to the Leopards' 10. Wade had four kills and McCall and Wallech each added three for the Hubs.

Smithsburg made 12 errors in Game 4 while North made just five, but this time the Leopards had enough offense to overcome the mistakes. Rishell had seven kills, Black had five and Sprecher added three, and Dani Hudson served three aces. Black had three kills and Sprecher added two in Smithsburg's final six points of the game, which again came with Rishell in the back.

Danielle Beaver had 18 digs and Rishell added 17 digs to round out her performance for the Leopards. Wade had 15 digs and Plume added 11 for the Hubs.

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