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Leopards start fast, top Blazers

November 12, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

SMITHSBURG -- Sixteen up, 16 down for Smithsburg's volleyball team.

Up next: A highly anticipated showdown with Fort Hill for the Maryland Class 1A West title.

The top-seeded Leopards came out roaring against Washington County rival and fourth-seed Clear Spring in Wednesday's semifinals, playing up to their full, overwhelming potential to win Game 1 on the way to a 25-11, 25-17, 23-25, 25-20 victory over the Blazers.

Smithsburg -- which last won the regional title in 2001 on the way to its fifth state title in program history -- will host second-seed Fort Hill (15-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m.

"It's only going to get harder against Fort Hill," Leopards coach Rachel Brashear said. "But they're focused and they want it."

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"We're definitely looking forward to it," said junior Sara Rishell, who finished with 29 kills and six blocks Wednesday. "We haven't advanced this far in a while. We're proving to ourselves we can do it."

Smithsburg may have started slowly in losing Game 1 to Williamsport in Monday's quarterfinals, but Clear Spring (12-4) -- which finished second to the Leopards in the MVAL Antietam -- had Smithsburg's undivided attention.

"We knew Clear Spring would give us a great match tonight," Brashear said. "In my mind, that's two of the best teams in Maryland playing, and we knew we couldn't afford to start slowly if we wanted to beat them."

After Hannah House put down the match's first point on a kill for the Blazers, the Leopards won 15 of the next 17 points on runs of 9-0 and 6-0. The game was a clinic in power volleyball -- Rishell had eight kills and two blocks, Danielle Beaver and Katie Sprecher each had two kills and Taylor Belella orchestrated the blowout with 14 assists, a kill and an ace.

"That first game got us rolling and got our nerves out a little bit," Brashear said.

Clear Spring led Game 2 13-11 before Smithsburg went on a 9-1 run to seize control. Rishell was at the center of the run with three kills and two blocks, and she finished with an identical stat line for Game 2 (eight kills, two blocks) as Game 1. Colleen Black added three kills.

The Leopards had a hiccup in Game 3 -- making 12 errors, only five of which were hitting miscues -- and almost pulled the game out anyway. Down 23-20, Black's kill, Sprecher's ace and a kill by Rishell tied the game at 23. But a net violation gave the Blazers serve and game point, and House's tip found a hole in the middle of Smithsburg's defense for the win.

"Those girls gave it their all," Blazers coach Kim Malphurs said. "They never quit and that's something I'm proud of. These girls at times this year exceeded my expectations. We played consistently each match all season. Other years, we were up and down, but I always knew we would show up this year."

Smithsburg used a seven-point run to take a 7-3 lead in Game 4 and led the rest of the way, although Clear Spring cut the deficit to one multiple times, the last at 21-20. The Leopards won the last four points -- Black had two kills and a block to set up match point, and Rishell's kill ended the match.

Belella finished with 47 assists, Sprecher had nine kills and 13 digs, Black had eight kills, Beaver had 15 digs, four kills and four aces, and Rishell added 12 digs for Smithsburg.

Megan Micco had 32 assists and eight digs, Lily Pinkham had 13 kills, 11 digs and three aces, House had nine kills and three blocks, and Lindsay Lacy added eight kills, nine digs and three aces for Clear Spring. The Blazers' four losses this season came against state powers Smithsburg (twice), Francis Scott Key and Thomas Johnson.

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