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Role playing

Teamwork has worked best for Leopards

Teamwork has worked best for Leopards

November 18, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

SMITHSBURG -- What makes the 2009 Smithsburg volleyball team great?

As the undefeated Class 1A West region champions prepare to face 1A South champion Surrattsville (14-2) tonight at 6 at Ritchie Coliseum on the University of Maryland at College Park campus, one could argue it's junior superstar Sara Rishell. After all, Rishell led Washington County with her averages of 6.12 kills and 1.54 blocks per game and was second on the team with 3.02 digs per game.

But here's another viewpoint: Smithsburg's true greatness lies in the other players' ability to selflessly accept and execute their given roles.

"You tell the kids, 'This is your role and you have to accept it,' but the kids also have to buy into it, and they do," Leopards coach Rachel Brashear said. "They've all bought in. I've never been part of a team, as a player or a coach, with this kind of chemistry.

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"There hasn't been one quarrel, there really hasn't been. They have state championship character."

Without question, when Rishell is in the front row, she's front and center in nearly everything Smithsburg (17-0) does. Her teammates gladly feed her the ball early and often so she can do her thing.

It's a testament to the Leopards that they're still great when Rishell moves to the back row.

Junior Taylor Belella (10.21 assists, 0.72 aces, 2.02 digs) starts mixing up the attack, feeding senior Colleen Black (2.88 kills, 0.90 blocks) and junior Katie Sprecher (2.33 kills, 3.09 digs) -- who combined for 16 kills in the 1A West final Saturday against Fort Hill.

"They know they're working together for a common goal, and they'll all tell you they can't do it without their teammates," Brashear said.

Danielle Beaver (2.82 digs) and Paige Decker (2.29 digs) get in the act defensively to give Smithsburg five players averaging more than two digs a game.

"I told them at the beginning of the year, 'Offense wins games and defense wins championships,'" Brashear said. "From Day 1, we knew we had the firepower, but did we have the defense? We've proved we do."

Smithsburg has proven itself against some of the top teams in Maryland. The Leopards' closest victory came in a five-game thriller against Francis Scott Key (17-1), who will play for the Class 2A state title Saturday. Smithsburg has two victories over Clear Spring (12-4), one over Class 4A power Thomas Johnson (14-3) and the playoff win over the Sentinels (15-2), whose only other loss came against TJ.

"We've played pretty consistently all year, and we play our best against teams closer to our level," Belella said.

"We played teams all year long to prepare for this moment," Brashear said. "It's an advantage for us playing in this area."

The Leopards expect to have a significant fan turnout tonight at Ritchie Coliseum. Supporters packed the Leopards' gym for the region final.

"It's a tribute to our small town that we get this kind of crowd on a consistent basis," Brashear said. "We don't only have a great team, we have great fans."

"Hopefully, we'll continue to 18-0," Rishell said. "All we can do is continue to practice hard, play hard and let the chips fall where they may."

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