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Leopards shake off rust to polish off 'Cats

November 10, 2009|By CHRIS CARTER

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     SMITHSBURG -- Not once during its undefeated regular season did the Smithsburg volleyball team lose the opening game of a match.

     So when it happened Monday night in Maryland 1A West quarterfinals action, one might have been uncertain as to how the Leopards would respond.

     Their answer? Three straight wins, including a dominant clinching fourth game that lands the Leopards in the region semifinals  -- with a perfect record intact -- after the 17-25, 25-16, 25-13, 25-9 victory.

     "We had a 13-day layoff and I knew coming out that it might be a little shaky," said Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear, whose team will host Clear Spring on Wednesday. "Williamsport gave us all we could handle and we had our backs against the wall. Maybe it wasn't a bad thing for us to lose Game 1."

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 Smithsburg (15-0) led only once in the opening game -- 1-0 on a Williamsport error. The Wildcats ran off 13 of the next 18 points to take control and the Leopards never got closer than four points for the rest of the game.

 But perhaps that was the wake-up call Smithsburg needed. The Leopards raced out to an 11-4 lead in Game 2 -- the lead was never threatened. They jumped ahead 12-3 in Game 3 -- the lead was never threatened. And finally, the exclamation point, Smithsburg led 9-8 before going on a 15-point run for a 24-8 lead.

After a sideout, Leopards junior Sara Rishell slammed the ball between a pair of Wildcats defenders for the deciding point.

"We really pulled together as a team. We didn't play our game the first time, but it got a lot better after that," said Rishell, who finished with team-highs of 27 kills and six blocks. "We had confidence that we could come back because this team has a lot of heart and never gives up." 

As Rishell went, so did the Leopards. In the sloppy first game she committed six errors of her own while recording just three kills. But she countered the off game by slamming 24 kills in the three wins, including 10 in the final game. 

While she gathered herself after the first game, Rishell got a boost from teammate Colleen Black who had 13 kills in the match and from Katie Sprecher who added nine to go with 15 digs.

"At one time I looked to my team and said, 'Please set me,'" Black said. "I really wanted to do my part because we had such a bad first game."

Taylor Belella was the catalyst behind the attack as she recorded 45 assists to go with her 11 service points. Paige Decker led the Leopards with 21 service points -- highlighted by the 15 she served in Game 4 -- and added 10 digs.

Sam Kelley led Williamsport (6-11) with nine kills. Paige Kitchen had eight assists, Summer Neff had seven and Stacey Christy had five blocks for the Wildcats.

"I'm very proud of this team to come out and play the way we did in the first game," said Williamsport coach Emily Crabtree. "I'm not sure if that took it out of us or what, but in Game 2 we just fell a little flat. But we didn't give up and we just lost to the better team tonight. I don't have a problem saying that."

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