Leopards still rule 1A West volleyball

November 11, 2011|By DAN KAUFFMAN |

SMITHSBURG — A lot of high school volleyball programs sure would like to have the kind of “down year” Smithsburg is enjoying.

Sure, six seniors — five of them starters — graduated last year from a Leopards squad that won 38 straight matches on the way to two Maryland Class 1A state titles.

No matter. This year’s team is writing its own chapter in Smithsburg’s storied history.

Danielle Harbaugh had 21 kills and Sarah Shives added 38 assists and three aces as the Leopards won their third straight Class 1A West region title Friday with a 25-22, 25-22, 25-16 sweep of Fort Hill — which has been on the short end of each of the last three 1A West finals.

“In the beginning of the season, and even in the offseason, there was a lot of talk in the volleyball community of Smithsburg being down,” Leopards coach Rachel Brashear said. “I knew we had the potential to be very good. When you graduate a senior class like we did, it’s tough. But these girls wanted this bad.

“They know that we’re Smithsburg, and they have a legacy to live up to. ... They want to carry on the tradition and make a name for themselves.”

Smithsburg (15-2) has won 13 straight playoff matches and is 39-2 in playoff games since 2009. The Leopards’ last 11 playoff victories have been sweeps.

Smithsburg will play in the Class 1A state semifinals on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum against the 1A North champion — either Western STES or Pikesville.

The Leopards opened Game 1 with a 5-0 run led by Harbuagh’s three kills, and a rout appeared possible. But Fort Hill (12-5) played well in the first two games and tested Smithsburg, with the Sentinels’ big block making things difficult at times.

“They had a double-block coming from the outside, and we just had to beat the middle blocker to the ball,” Harbaugh said. “The big thing for me was to see the court and find the open spots.”

Trailing 22-21 at the end of Game 1, the Leopards closed it out with a four-point run made entirely of Fort Hill errors — the Sentinels had 12 errors in the game to Smithsburg’s six, which made the difference.

Harbaugh had six kills, Haley Caudell had four kills and Amanda Snowden added two kills and an ace for the Leopards in the game.

Fort Hill led Game 2 16-11 before Smithsburg went on a 9-2 run to take a 20-18 lead the Leopards never relinquished. Harbaugh’s eight kills — including three late in the game — led the way, while Caudell had three kills and two blocks, and Snowden added three kills. Caudell ended the game emphatically with a strong block.

Game 3 proved to be easier for Smithsburg, which again raced to a 5-0 lead but this time never let off the gas, pushing the advantage to 15-7 before a 4-0 run late made it 24-14 and ended all suspense. Harbaugh had seven kills and a block, and Caitlyn Cramer added three kills in the game.

The victory assured the seniors — including Harbaugh, Shives and defensive star Karah Knight, who had 12 digs — of going undefeated in their final three years on the Leopards’ home court.

“Tonight was an awesome night,” Harbaugh said. “It was my last home game ever and I wanted to go out with a bang. The seniors wanted to make tonight memorable.”

Caudell finished with nine kills and Snowden added seven kills and 10 digs for Smithsburg. Shives also had 10 digs.

Kayla Hutson had 25 assists, Katelyn Covey had 14 kills, Danielle Smith had eight kills and Mollie Mandell added six kills and four blocks for Fort Hill.

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