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Brashear guides Leopards to state glory

December 11, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

From the day Rachel Brashear started coaching Smithsburg's volleyball team in 2003, her goal was to return the Leopards to the top of Maryland Class 1A -- a place she reached as a senior wearing Smithsburg's purple and gold in 1998.

That goal came to fruition this season, as Smithsburg (19-0) completed its first undefeated state-championship season since 2001.

Brashear is The Herald-Mail's 2009 All-County Volleyball Coach of the Year.

"To have the player of the year (Sara Rishell) and the coach of the year, to me it feels like we're the team of the year," Brashear said. "When you have the team I had this year, the type of parents, the community support, it just came together for a championship season.

"This is more a team of the year award for me. It's my kids' accomplishment, the parents' accomplishment and the coaching staff's accomplishment."

Two years ago, when Colleen Black was a sophomore and Rishell and Taylor Belella were freshmen, Smithsburg went 7-8. But everyone knew with another year or two of experience, the Leopards would be formidable.

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"They were a very young team that year, but I knew they had potential and if they worked hard enough, their time would come," Brashear said. "Not just because they're skilled, there's a lot of skilled players in the county, but they have a never-say-die attitude."

The Leopards took a step forward in 2008, going 11-6 and sharing the MVAL Antietam title with Williamsport and Clear Spring.

That was the springboard to much greater things in 2009.

"There have been matches where our backs were against the wall, and they came out fighting," Brashear said. "They lost matches like that last year, but they came into their own this year."

Smithsburg answered all challenges this year. The Leopards edged Francis Scott Key in five games in an early-season clash -- the Eagles went on to win the Maryland Class 2A state title, with the loss to Smithsburg their only defeat -- and also beat Class 4A power Thomas Johnson in four games.

The Leopards' toughest challenge in the Class 1A tournament came from 1A West foes Clear Spring (a four-game victory in the regional semifinals) and Fort Hill. Smithsburg impressively swept the Sentinels -- who previously lost just one match and four games -- in the 1A West final.

"I knew the best competition they were going to face was in 1A West, and if they got through it, they would have success at states," Brashear said. "To win as a player was special, to win as a coach is even more special. As a player, I was naive and didn't realize how much skill and luck goes into winning a state title. I wanted the kids and the community to experience that again."

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