Time here for HCC to play its best

November 16, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

The Hagerstown Community College volleyball team is 31-7, ranked 10th in NJCAA Division II, won the Region XX title for the seventh straight year and will leave today for Wisconsin Dells, Wis., for its seventh straight appearance at the national tournament.

Yet the consensus is, this year's Hawks have yet to play to their full potential. That's why, as the No. 9 seed in the 16-team national tournament, many Hawks players believe they have nothing to lose as they prepare to face No. 8-seed Kalamazoo, Mich. (36-6) in a first-round match Thursday.

"Since the teams we're playing are seeded higher than us, they have everything to lose and they're afraid of us," sophomore Hailee Growden, a Williamsport graduate, said.

There may be some truth to that.

In six matches against teams seeded higher in the national tournament -- four of them coming at the Wisconsin Dells Tournament on Oct. 16-17 -- HCC went 0-6 and lost 17 of 23 games. Yet despite struggling with their passing, the Hawks were within five points in eight of the 15 game losses that were played to 25.


"What excites them is that they took a game against (No. 4) Kishwaukee, a game against (No. 1) Illinois Central and two against (No. 7) Des Moines, and they didn't play their best," Hawks coach Beth Domenico said. "When this team passes well, everything falls into place. That's the skill I get most nervous about. Serving and passing are our biggest concerns. If we do those two things, everything else will come."

If HCC is to improve on its best finish at nationals -- seventh place in 2007 -- it will have to start in the back row, which Growden (2.21 digs per game) anchors as the team's top defensive specialist.

"We have wonderful hitters and setters, but if we can't pass, we can't hit," Growden said. "When we went to Wisconsin, we stayed with all of those teams and didn't pass well at all. If we serve well and pass well, we can overtake them."

The Hawks' offense is potent, led by a pair of sophomore outside hitters in Rebecca Morgan (3.91 kills, 1.95 digs, 0.88 aces) -- a Grace Academy graduate -- and Julia Becker (3.68 kills, 1.62 digs), an Alaska native.

"We win and we lose as a team. We can't blame one person or credit one person," Morgan said. "I may get a lot of kills, but I can't do it without a pass and a set. Everyone has to have a good attitude and has to want to win."

"Coaches at the Wisconsin Dells Tournament said we have the two best outside hitters in the country this year," Domenico said. "They're jumping higher than anyone else. They just need to have confidence in what they can do."

The Hawks will run a 4-2 offense with freshman setters Ashlyn Rebok (5.63 assists), a Chambersburg graduate, and Sara Michael (4.30 assists, 1.08 kills) orchestrating the attack. With top middle hitter Klonarda Nezaj (2.90 kills, 0.78 blocks) out after ACL surgery, freshman Emma Dalton (1.07 kills) -- a Boonsboro graduate -- and Leah MacSwain will have to step up.

As always, a fast start at nationals isn't just a priority, it's a necessity. First-round winners are guaranteed a top-eight finish, and teams that win their first two matches -- something the Hawks have never done -- are guaranteed a top-four place.

Domenico believes the Hawks match up evenly with Kalamazoo.

"We saw them play, but we have not played them. They do not have an incredible standout player, and we don't, either," Domenico said.

Should HCC get past Kalamazoo, the Hawks would likely face Illinois Central in the quarterfinals. Illinois Central beat HCC 25-23, 23-25, 25-16, 25-22 in the Wisconsin Dells Tournament.

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