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Leopards conquer Fort Hill

November 14, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

SMITHSBURG -- Smithsburg's undefeated volleyball team saved its best match of the season for its biggest test to date. In doing so, the Leopards turned the Maryland Class 1A West final against Fort Hill into their own showcase.

What was expected to be a close contest was no contest. The Leopards outplayed the Sentinels in every phase of the match in front of hundreds of their fans in a packed gym, and won their first regional title since 2001 with a 25-12, 25-14, 25-19 sweep.

"Everyone played up to their potential and played a great match," said Smithsburg junior Taylor Belella, who directed the demolition with 31 assists. "Without everyone playing their best, I don't think we'd have been able to win. It lets us know we can beat anyone if we put our hearts into it and play our best."

"They played so well as a team tonight. Everybody chipped in, and we passed the ball incredibly on serve receive," Leopards coach Rachel Brashear said. "When you put the pass on the money, with all our options, you have a good chance."

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Smithsburg (17-0) will play in the Class 1A state semifinals against Surrattsville (14-2) on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum in College Park. The Leopards' last trip to the state tournament eight years ago resulted in their fifth state title and capped a run of three titles in four years.

Fort Hill (15-2) entered the match having lost four games all season -- three came in the Sentinels' only loss, 3-1 to Thomas Johnson in their final regular-season match on Oct. 27. Smithsburg defeated TJ 3-1 on Sept. 10.

The Leopards were better offensively (40 kills to 23 for Fort Hill), better blocking (four to three), better serving (nine aces to five), made fewer errors (14 to 22), passed better than the Sentinels and played great team defense -- Belella and Paige Decker each had seven digs, Katie Sprecher had six digs and Sara Rishell and Danielle Beaver each added five digs.

"Everybody gave it their best," said Rishell, a junior who led the attack with 17 kills. "It wasn't one person or two, it was everybody contributing."

"We were definitely pumped," said senior Colleen Black. "This is the third time in four years I've played (Fort Hill) in the playoffs, and the other two times we lost. It was time for revenge. It was amazing, exciting. We all came together and played as a team."

Smithsburg snapped a 4-4 tie in Game 1 with a 14-1 run. The Leopards erased a 3-2 deficit in Game 2 with a 5-0 run, never trailed again and closed the game with another 5-0 run. After Fort Hill won the first point of Game 3, Smithsburg won the next five and never trailed after that.

The Leopards' offense was sensational, and didn't miss a beat even with Rishell in the back row. Black and Sprecher each finished with eight kills -- Black had three in Game 1 and four in Game 2, and Sprecher had five in Game 3.

"That's the best they both have played," Rishell said. "They knew it was their last game here, and they left everything on the floor."

"It's probably one of the best matches I've played personally, and one of the best matches this team has played," Sprecher said. "We put it together offensively and defensively."

"It was a very balanced attack, and that's what we needed," Brashear said. "Taylor distributed the ball really well tonight. She kept Fort Hill off balance and kept them on their toes."

Tasha Dunlap had 17 assists and two kills, Nicole Absher had eight kills and three aces, and Andrea Armstrong added nine kills for the Sentinels.

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