Leopards prepare for 1A title defense

September 03, 2010|By DAN KAUFFMAN
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Smithsburg volleyball coach Rachel Brashear wrote on Facebook recently that, "When she wraps her hand around my finger ... Oh it puts a smile in my heart."

2009 Herald-Mail Washington County Player of the Year Sara Rishell wasted little time responding, "Aw coach, I didn't realize it meant that much to you. I'll be sure to do that tomorrow at practice."

Brashear actually was referring to her infant daughter Emma.

"I laughed so hard, and was trying to think of something witty to come back with and couldn't come up with anything," Brashear said. "I think that reflects the relationship I have with my players. There's a friendship and also a mutual respect. Sara is all personality. That's just the tip of the iceberg with her."

"Everyone on the team has a goofy personality and we joke around, but we also know when to be serious and how to get the job done," Rishell said. "We're definitely all friends on and off the court."


In a way, Brashear and Rishell are walking hand in hand leading the Leopards as they embark on their defense of last year's Maryland Class 1A state championship.

Rishell, a 6-foot-2 middle hitter, had a season for the ages as a junior -- her 6.10 kills per game average was the highest by a county player since rally scoring began in 2003.

A new year brings new challenges for Smithsburg, which must replace talented hitter Colleen Black -- now playing at NCAA Division I Saint Francis -- and overcome the loss of senior Katie Sprecher as an attacker because of shoulder problems. Sprecher will be a defensive specialist.

"It's always good when you have a challenge to work really hard at, because if you accomplish the goal, it makes it that much better," Rishell said. "We know what the challenges are, and we're ready to take them head on."

"As a whole, it's a different group of girls in different positions this year," Brashear said. "My team last year played their roles very well. They still need to play their roles this year, but they're going to have more responsibility."


Junior varsity coach Andrea Sawtelle is filling in for varsity coach Andrea Parry while Parry is on maternity leave. Sawtelle inherits a team that will try to make its mark on defense, led by junior Tiffany Rohrer, who averaged 3.12 digs last year.

"We're a really young team, but we're really scrappy," Sawtelle said. "I feel like we're going in as underdogs. No one expects much from us. Camaraderie-wise, it's probably the most tight-knit group we've had in my four years. We have some small girls who are really good passing and digging."

Junior middle hitter Sydney Parks will be the go-to attacker after showing flashes of brilliance last year.

"She stepped up last year just to play on varsity, and played club ball, too," Sawtelle said. "She's gained confidence, and she's good defensively, too. She's going to be a good leader on the team."

Senior Amber Welch and sophomore Shelby Griffith will likely start as setters in the Warriors' 6-2 set. Senior Gabrielle Smallwood and junior Aurelie King will try to add depth to the attack, with junior Amber Myers and sophomore Shelby Wallace playing in the back row.

"I think they're going to give people a run for their money. I think they have as good a shot as anyone else, and I don't think anyone expects it," Sawtelle said. "We scrimmaged Martinsburg, they had 10 seniors and they were outstanding hitting-wise, and our girls dug everything up. Defensively we're really strong."


The Lions went 22-0 in best-of-5 matches last year and won Mason Dixon Christian Conference and Maryland Christian State Tournament championships before a second-place finish in the National Association of Christian Athletes Division I tournament.

That was 2009. Coach Joe Cartwright has to go back to the drawing board after losing five starters, including All-County First Team talents Hannah Young on the front row and Danielle DuBois in the back row, where she starred for three years.

"It's been refreshing kind of going back and coaching some basics and bringing new people in, teaching things I'd already taught to the other girls who'd been here before," Cartwright said. "In that way, it's been fun."

Seniors Ariana Litten and Chelsea Foltz will lead the attack from their outside spots, with senior Kelli Crider setting them up. Junior Maria Pifer and sophomore Sarah Couch will attack from the middle.

"The attack may be spread out this year. We had our first game and I don't think anyone was real far ahead kills-wise," Cartwright said. "Kelli, the biggest upside with her is her leadership. She is very encouraging to all of the players and she's experienced. She hustles and hustles.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with how scrappy they've been. That's been very encouraging."

Clear Spring

The Blazers, 12-4 a year ago, may have been the second-best Class 1A team in Maryland -- their only two losses to 1A schools came against Smithsburg -- and they finished second in the MVAL Antietam.

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