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History will be waiting for Leopards

November 20, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It almost looks too easy.

Smithsburg's undefeated volleyball team will take the Ritchie Coliseum court on the University of Maryland campus this afternoon at 2:30 for the Maryland Class 1A state championship match. Here's what's standing between the Leopards and their first undefeated season and state title since 2001: A Catoctin team that was swept by Smithsburg 25-9, 25-17, 25-22 on Oct. 15 and finished 3-11 in the regular season, 1-6 in the MVAL Antietam and 0-5 against Washington County teams.

That's where the lessons of the 2007 Class 1A state final become extremely useful for the Leopards.

Two years ago, Boonsboro met South Carroll for the 1A state title. The Warriors swept the Cavaliers during the regular season, one of three sweeps South Carroll suffered against Washington County schools. But the Cavaliers shocked Boonsboro 25-19, 13-25, 25-15, 25-23 to win the championship.

"Anybody can beat anybody on any given night," Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear said. "We've got to show up."

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The Leopards (18-0) won the 1A West title and overwhelmed 1A South champion Surrattsville (14-3) 25-1, 25-2, 25-7 in the state semifinals Thursday.

Catoctin (7-11) won the 1A North title and stunned 1A East champion Patterson Mill (18-2) 13-25, 27-25, 26-24, 25-22 in Thursday's other semifinal. The Cougars fought off three game points in Game 2 and two more in Game 3, showing tenacity on defense and plenty of heart.

"I've just tried to make these kids believe they can do this, and it's hard when you have so many losses," Catoctin coach Dana Brashear said. "We like being the underdog. We're going to have a good time, suck in the atmosphere, enjoy the moment and play hard."

"They're a very scrappy team. You have to play to the whistle against them," Rachel Brashear said. "They don't give up. We'll have to battle."

Smithsburg will be playing for plenty of history this afternoon.

The Leopards, who have won state titles in 1981, 1989, 1998, 2000 and 2001, can join a list of six schools in the state with at least six championships -- Williamsport is second on that list with 12, behind Centennial's 14. Two other teams -- Broadneck in Class 4A and Francis Scott Key in Class 2A -- will be playing for their sixth title today.

Smithsburg can end a four-year state-title drought by Washington County schools that is the county's longest since 1975-80, when the championships were first held. Williamsport won the county's last state title in 2005, the Wildcats' last of four straight.

The Leopards can become the first undefeated state champion in Washington County since Williamsport in 2003. They also can join the undefeated 2001 Smithsburg squad in school lore.

"When I looked at the schedule and I saw Clear Spring, FSK and North Hagerstown, I thought we had the talent to do it, but would we pull together as a team?" Rachel Brashear said. "To be 18-0, that's a feat. Only two Smithsburg teams have gone undefeated, including 2001 with Heather Ashley, Michelle Feiser and Katy Powell. That puts this team in an elite group of individuals. We have one more to go, we can't put them there yet."

There's no secrets to Smithsburg's plan of attack. The Leopards will give junior Sara Rishell plenty of looks, and when she moves to the back row, senior Colleen Black and junior Katie Sprecher will be featured. Junior setter Taylor Belella will orchestrate the attack, and seniors Mallory Petty and Paige Decker and junior Danielle Beaver will pitch in defensively.

"We're going to come out swinging like we always do and put pressure on their defense," Rachel Brashear said. "It's going to come down to defense, our defense against their defense."

Catoctin's biggest threat is junior middle hitter Elise Manning, who had 18 kills against Patterson Mill.

"She's huge. She's our spark plug, our go-to girl, and in the tourney she's lit it up," Dana Brashear said. "The rest of the girls feed off her."

"She gave us a fit when we played them," Rachel Brashear said. "It's gonna be a tougher road for us Saturday, but the kids will be up for the challenge. We've been challenged all year long, and they want to be challenged. I don't think we'll have to pump our kids up."

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