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Leopards play like champions vs. Patriots

September 12, 2010|By DAN KAUFFMAN

SMITHSBURG -- Thomas Johnson's volleyball team has reached the Maryland Class 3A or Class 4A state semifinals eight times in the past 15 years and beat Liberty -- a three-time Class 2A state champion in the past seven years -- in five games on Tuesday to open the season.

It stood to reason that the Patriots could give defending Class 1A state champion Smithsburg a battle on Saturday.

So much for reason.

Sara Rishell was her usual overpowering self, and her teammates gave her plenty of help as the Leopards won their 21st straight match dating to the start of last season with a sensational display in a 25-13, 25-12, 25-14 rout.

"This was an overall team win, and we had a lot of people contributing in a big way," Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear said. "TJ is very well-coached. They had nice digs and nice hitters, and things just rolled our way tonight. We were all playing so well, everyone was on the same page."

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The most telling stat: Smithsburg (2-0) finished with 43 kills -- 23 by Rishell -- and just nine hitting errors. Thomas Johnson (1-1) had 20 kills and 14 hitting errors.

Rishell established herself with eight kills in Game 1, and Smithsburg used three runs of four or more points to take leads of 9-3, 14-7 and 22-10. Taylor Belella was superb in the game, with nine assists and three kills.

"Taylor brought her whole bag of tricks tonight," Brashear said. "When she's in the front row and being aggressive, defenses have to honor her. TJ had a great dig and the crowd was buzzing, and then she second-touch tips a winner. She's our glue."

Smithsburg broke open a close Game 2 with runs of four and eight points to turn a 10-9 lead into a 24-11 advantage. Rishell had eight kills and two blocks, Belella had 11 assists and Danielle Beaver came alive with five kills, putting a little extra oomph on her attempts.

"(Beaver) is a bag of nerves most of the time when she starts, but we need her to rip it," Brashear said. "That's going to be key to our success."

The Leopards scored 18 of the first 22 points of Game 3 to end all suspense. Rishell had seven more kills, Belella had seven assists and two kills to finish the night with 27 assists and six kills, and Beaver had two more kills to finish with seven.

Danielle Harbaugh -- a middle hitter -- led Smithsburg defensively with 12 digs, while Belella had nine and Rishell added seven as the Leopards took most of the sting out of the Patriots' attack. Rishell had four blocks. Smithsburg finished with 16 errors compared to 25 for TJ.

Hannah Knott had 16 assists and Alexis Skinner had eight kills for the Patriots.

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