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Prep Volleyball: Leopards charting course to state, county history

August 30, 2012|By DANIEL KAUFFMAN | kauffman@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Preps Previews
Washington County Preps Previews

The reigning queens of Maryland Class 1A volleyball are taking aim at a lot of history in 2012.

Smithsburg — which enters this season as the three-time defending state champion — can become the seventh team in state history to win four straight state titles, and the second team in Washington County history. Williamsport won the 1A title each year from 2002-05.

The Leopards have won eight state titles overall — the fourth-most in the state.

Not that Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear needs to bring any of this up.

“I don’t even tell them at all. They know,” she said. “Our team takes great pride in being Smithsburg volleyball. Historically, we’ve had a lot of success.”

There’s no reason to believe it won’t continue.

While the Leopards lost three Herald-Mail All-County performers — first-team middle hitter Danielle Harbaugh, second-team setter Sarah Shives and second-team defensive specialist Karah Knight — Smithsburg has the pieces in place to keep rolling along.

The attack will be led by two other All-County players who return — junior Amanda Snowden, a first-team outside hitter, and senior Haley Caudell, a second-team middle hitter.

“Amanda and Haley give us a lot of leadership and experience,” Brashear said. “They’re both very versatile hitters who can hit both inside and outside and give us a lot of options.”

The Leopards will likely start with a 6-2 set quarterbacked by two sophomore setters — Payton Belella, who started as a defensive specialist in 2011, and Marissa Dangler. Payton Belella’s older sister, Taylor, was the setter on Smithsburg’s 2009-10 championship teams.

“Peyton has this incredible calmness about her,” said Brashear. “She has nerves of steel, and she’ll need to step up and run the show.”

Senior Emily Seward returns and could provide additional firepower outside. In addition, four newcomers — freshman setter/middle hitter Alaina Black, freshman outside hitter Hollee Winders, junior defensive specialist Jenny Fritz and sophomore middle hitter Sara Hetherington — will vie for playing time.

Alaina Black’s older sister Colleen played on the 2009 state title team.

“We have a lot of young players and a lot of inexperience, but they’re a talented bunch of kids,” Brashear said. “I’m looking for big things from my underclassmen. Alaina will have to fill some big shoes, but she’s up to the challenge. Her sister played here and she knows what it takes to win games.

“If they learn to play together and improve, we can make another run of it.”

North Hagerstown

Megan Crawford’s Hubs won Washington County’s first Class 3A state title in 2011. North finally broke through in a state final after losses in four previous appearances.

It will be tough to make a repeat run after four key starters graduated — including 2011 Herald-Mail Washington County Player of the Year Autumn Fisher and first-team setter Brynne Kirsch. But the Hubs have some quality talent back, led by senior middle hitter Peyton Wallech, a 2011 first-teamer.

“She’s taking (being the leader) in stride. She has to take the leadership role not only by playing and leading by example, but also keeping them together on the floor,” Crawford said. “She wants that role. She hasn’t had to do that in the past, but from her freshman year to now as a senior, she’s grown up so much. ... This is her year and she’s not going to leave the floor. Teams are going to know the majority of the balls are going to go to her, so we’ll have to move her around a bit.”

Also returning are senior outside hitter Jess Wivell, senior setter Lauren Serafini, junior outside hitter Michey Moody and sophomore libero Alexis McCarthy. Serafini will be the starter in the Hubs’ 5-1 set.

“She’s taken the job and is working hard,” Crawford said. “She’s trying to get the timing down with all of our hitters, and repetition is going to be her biggest thing, trying to learn the offense.

“Michey came in swinging outside with much more power than last year, along with Jess. Both of them have improved in the offseason. Alexis has improved 100 percent from last year. We’ve been impressed with her in scrimmages. She moves so well, is so quick and she’s always asking questions.”

Two newcomers — junior outside hitter Christine Randall and sophomore middle hitter Zoe Schreiber — will be part of the mix.

“Zoe is a sophomore but she’s very smart. She sees the holes and can also swing for power,” Crawford said. “Our goal is to keep improving and be at the top hopefully starting by playoff time.”

Williamsport

The last of the county’s “Big Three” MVAL Antietam teams had a rough ending to 2011. After going 15-0 in the regular season, Emily Crabtree’s Wildcats were stunned by Middletown in the Class 2A West quarterfinals.

“The way our season ended last year was very hurtful, very disappointing and they don’t want that to happen again, so we’ll do everything possible to do something different,” Crabtree said. “They’re definitely working hard. I’ve never had a team work as hard in the offseason and the preseason as they have.”

The Wildcats were hit by an even more painful blow in May, when senior Samantha Kelly was killed in an auto accident along with classmate Brendon Colliflower following the school’s Prom. Kelly will be on every player’s mind this season.

“Those are what we’ve been motivating ourselves with,” Crabtree said. “It’s sad. They want it so bad for Sam, and we’ll use that as a motivator, but we’ve got to want it for ourselves first. Sam will be with us.”

Williamsport has won 12 state titles — second-most in state history — but none since the last of four straight 1A titles in 2005. Five returning starters will try to end that drought, led by senior middle hitter Stacey Christy, a first-team honoree in 2011.

“We’re looking to her for those key points in a match when we’ve got to score,” Crabtree said. “She needs to do that and I think she can handle it. She’s changed as a person for the good. She’s more of a team kind of person.”

Junior Emily Taylor will start at setter in the Wildcats’ 5-1 set. In addition to Christy, she can look for two other returning attackers senior outside hitter Haley Wolff, junior outside hitter Courtney Malott. Newcomers Karli Grimes, a junior outside hitter, and Lindsey Mowbray, a junior middle hitter, also are in the mix.

“Emily, she’s the quarterback. She’s got to put the ball where it needs to go, and she got a lot of experience as a sophomore, which has really helped her. I think she can handle it,” Crabtree said. Haley has, oh my goodness, she has improved tremendously from last year. She’s just so strong outside and she’s working on moving her hits around and not being predictable. She’s really impressed me.

“Courtney got some good key playing time last year and it’s helped her step into a starting role. She’s very versatile, can play anywhere, has good defensive and court senses and she can really jump high for her size (5-8). Lindsey might surprise some people in the middle. She’s challenging Stacey in practice and if she picks up her game to that level, it will really help us in the long run because when it’s her turn in the front row, we need her.”

Junior Brooklyn Welch returns after earning second-team honors in 2011 and will likely be Williamsport’s primary defensive player.

Boonsboro

Andrea Parry’s Warriors have never lacked for defensive intensity, hustle and fight. Though they went 7-9 overall in 2011, they took Fort Hill to five games in 1A West quarterfinals — the Sentinels went on to lose to Smithsburg in the region final for the third straight year.

If Boonsboro has lacked anything in recent seasons, it’s been a go-to attacker and, perhaps, good chemistry.

Parry thinks this year’s squad may have both.

“This, I will say, is by far the best team I have had in the six years I’ve been at Boonsboro and eight years overall as far as team chemistry,” Parry said. “That’s a huge step in itself and it makes the atmosphere so much better. That, along with the skill, it’s going to be one of those years I think everything will click.”

Both setters in the Warriors’ 6-2 set return in seniors Shelby Griffith and Shelby Wallace, who also are team captains.

“That’s very important. With them being seniors, a lot of that chemistry is because of those two,” Parry said. “I have to give them a lot of credit for the energy and attitude they bring. They take control.”

Sophomore middle hitter Taylor Williams, who led the team in kills per game a year ago, returns, as does junior outside hitter Sarah Anderson, junior hitter Maggie Sullivan and junior defensive specialist Skylar Casto.

“Taylor’s probably the one who has the power,” Parry said. “Consistency is something we’re trying to work on, and that’s across the board with all hitters. Taylor has a lot of potential. I think we’re going to have a little more depth hitting. We still have a young front row and they have a learning curve, but as the season progresses, one thing I like is I can put any hitter in any position and they know how to play it. Everybody’s confident and they know my expectations.”

Junior libero Natalie Reeder and sophomore outside hitter Leigh Ann Cowden are newcomers who could make an impact.

“With Tiffany (Reeder) gone, Natalie has big shoes to fill, but she’s going to fill those shoes just fine,” Parry said.

“As always within the county, Smithsburg has kind of been the head honcho, but I feel this year it’s anybody’s game. It’s who comes to play mentally every game, and one of the things we have this year that we haven’t had in the past is that chemistry, and I think that’s going to make a big difference this year.”

Clear Spring

The Blazers went 6-10 overall and 1-6 in the MVAL Antietam in coach Sabrina Lee-LeHew’s first season as head coach in 2011. She believes better things are in store in 2012.

“We have a group of girls returning who got some valuable varsity experience under their belt last year, and they should provide a solid core to our team,” Lee-LeHew said. “Where we were tentative last year, I’d like to think we’ll be a little more mature.”

Four starters return, including All-County second-teamer Kristen Mellott, a sophomore middle hitter. Senior setter Sarah Elwood, senior libero Sarah Blickenstaff and junior outside hitter Kyleigh Stottlemyer also return.

Blickenstaff-to-Elwood-to-Mellott could be quite common this season.

“Sarah, last year was her first year as a setter and she totally changed gears,” Lee-LeHew said. “This year I can see confidence in her and she’s taking the reins. ... Sarah (Blickenstaff) is great. I couldn’t ask for a player with more hustle. Kristin was a freshman last year and easing into things. This year, she’s way more aggressive.”

Junior Jessica Long returns and will join Elwood in the Blazers’ 6-2 set. Junior outside hitter Jordan McNamee returns, along with two senior defensive specialists, Alexis Yost and Samantha Michael.

Sophomore newcomer Olivia Rowe could make her mark at middle hitter.

“I think we have a lot of ingredients. We definitely have the potential to post a better record than last year,” Lee-LeHew said. “What I like best about this team is that they genuinely like playing volleyball with each other, and I hope that will propel them in the right direction this year. I am very optimistic and excited to see what they can do this season.”

South Hagerstown

Chuck Weaver’s Rebels went through a tough 2011 season, finishing 3-13 overall and 1-6 in the MVAL Antietam. South is 6-25 over the last two seasons, and this year’s group is not particularly deep with experience.

“We’re short on returning players. I brought up four players,” Weaver said. “I hope we start better than we did last year because we have some new personalities. The chemistry is huge, as is having that winning drive, and that’s something we’ve been missing for the last two years.”

Three senior starters return in setter Victoria Pearl and outside hitters Lexi Shaffer and Hayley Freeman. Two other seniors also return in outside hitter Ashlyn Hinkle and defensive specialist Brett Jamison.

Junior libero Kirsten Mohar returns, while Weaver hopes three sophomore newcomers — outside hitter Kendra Day, setter Alisha Adkins and middle hitter Elena Young — can breathe some life into the team.

“I’m hoping for more leadership out of Hayley and Victoria,” Weaver said. “I’m hoping Alisha is one of those players who makes plays happen. I’m looking for Kendra to be our consistent presence on offense.”

Hancock

Laura Baker’s Panthers battled to a .500 record (8-8) in 2011, a respectable finish after losing star middle hitter Maureen Leavy from the 2010 team that went 10-5.

It’s Maureen’s little sister, senior middle hitter Joan Leavy, who figures to be the headliner in 2012. She’ll have plenty of experienced supporting players, as Hancock’s roster features nine returning seniors.

“This group did extremely well when they were together on JV two years ago. They went 11-2 that year, so we’re excited about getting them back as a team for one last year,” Baker said. “In terms of attacking, Joan will be the key.”

Outside hitter Elizabeth Teeter and middle hitter Sara Wagner will help Leavy in the attack.

“We’ve normally been a team with one or two solid hitters at the most, so we’re excited about (having three),” Baker said.

Alisa Shives and the one newcomer — junior Kara McKinley — will handle the setting duties. Libero Emily Harvey will be the primary defender, joined by Jessica Martin and Lindsay Flowers.

“We’re hoping to be a scrappy team with who we have in the back,” Baker said. “This is the best group of girls I’ve had by far.”

Heritage Academy

Young-Sook Anderson’s Eagles have been the class of the Mason Dixon Christian Conference — and all Maryland Christian schools — since 2010, going 53-2-1 in all matches. The two losses came in best-of-3 matches at last year’s National Association of Christian Schools tournament, in which Heritage finished second.

The good news: The Eagles have senior middle hitter Kara Stamper — a two-time All-County first-teamer and NACA All-American — back and reportedly in full health after suffering a torn ACL late last basketball season. She had 60 kills in 10 games through Wednesday.

“She listened to the doctors and did what they told her to do,” Anderson said. “I was worried, but she told me she would be ready, so I didn’t worry about it anymore. She is completely healed. She’s very aggressive this year and is stepping up.”

The bad news: Stamper is the only returning starter back, which will make defending their various titles more difficult for the Eagles.

The new group of starters includes junior Nicole Gaylor (defensive specialist), sophomores Christi Jackson (middle hitter), Hannah Gaylor (outside hitter), Lizzy Kriner (outside hitter) and Bethany Powell (defensive specialist) and eighth-grader Chloe Prejean (setter).

“I really don’t know how this season will go,” Anderson said. “Last year we knew we were going to win in the MDCC, I didn’t have any doubt about it. This year, except Kara, it’s brand new girls, so our goal is to play one match at a time.”

Grace Academy

First-year coach Lauren Henry takes over a Knights squad that struggled last season but should turn things around behind five returning starters in 2012 — senior setter Caitlin Cox and juniors Heather Groves (setter), Allie Cox (outside hitter), Brooke Morgan (outside hitter) and Gracie Buser (middle hitter).

“(Caitlin, Allie and Brooke), those three are our captains this year, and Heather is also very strong and she’s a lefty,” Henry said. “Those four are our key players who will bring it together.”

Morgan — whose older sister Rebecca starred for the Knights and Hagerstown Community College — could be the main weapon, although Groves can step up and hit when not setting in the 6-2 formation.

“We’re trying to get Brooke to be more consistent,” Henry said. “Either her or Heather will be our primary attacker. Heather is really good at finding the empty spots.”

The Cox sisters will do a little bit of everything, while senior Jess Gladhill and sophomore newcomer Jocelyn Quirple will help in the back row.

“Our main goal is to get to the MDCC championship, and I really think it will happen,” Henry said. “I really think they can step up. We want to be a strong serving team ... and defensive team, just being scrappy, hustling and getting to the ball and not letting it hit the floor.”

Broadfording

Joe Cartwright’s Lions are not used to losing seasons — in fact, before Heritage Academy rose to prominence in the MDCC in the last two seasons, Broadfording ruled the conference in most years. The Lions went a combined 141-27 from 2003-10, with undefeated seasons in 2005 (18-0) and 2009 (22-0).

But going .500 this season will be a tall order. The Lions have just two starters back — senior middle hitter Sarah Couch and junior setter/outside hitter Kierra White — and three players returning in all, with junior outside hitter Jade Boone rounding out the trio.

“We lost five seniors, so we’re rebuilding,” Cartwright said. “The biggest thing will be overall leadership and court experience with Sarah. Kierra played libero last year, and besides Sarah she’s my most experienced player, so those two will be captains and coaches on the court. ... I can put everybody else in place and then plug Kierra in the hole. Jade is someone who didn’t see a lot of playing time last year but in practice showed a lot of promise, especially with her passing. I’m hoping her overall game will grow and she becomes a little more of a hitter.”

Junior setter/outside hitter Aspen Flook is a newcomer Cartwright is hoping can anchor the back row.

“Aspen provides a lot of hustle to this team,” Cartwright said. She leaves everything on the floor and is very scrappy.”

St. Maria Goretti

Tonya Miller’s Gaels enjoyed a solid 2011 campaign, finishing 10-10. With just two returning starters back and five returning players in all, Goretti could be hard-pressed to stay at .500 again.

“They definitely have the mentality and they’re working well together, but it is a fresh group,” Miller said. “Not many were starters. ... I’m hoping we’ll at least go .500 and match our record from last year. I know that will be tough.”

Seniors Jessica Swarner (middle hitter) and Erin Sempowski (outside hitter) are the returning starters, while seniors Hannah Geesaman (outside hitter) and Brooke Shives (middle hitter) and sophomore Abbey Eich (middle hitter) also return. Miller is hopeful newcomer Emma Hogan — a freshman setter whose sister Jean was the starting setter last year before graduating — can fill her shoes.

“Emma still has some butterflies but she was ready to step up,” Miller said. “Abbey, she’s is a very strong middle. Hannah’s outside and she has a nasty swing. Whenever she hits it, it’s pretty hard. Jessica is our defensive anchor. She’s everywhere on the court.”

Saint James

Blakeley Jackson takes over the Saints’ varsity team after leading the JV team last year. She has three returning starters in senior outside hitter Tessa Laxalt, junior outside hitter Candice Yang and sophomore middle hitter McKenna Hough.

Senior middle hitter Becca Murphy and junior defensive specialist Maddie Guillard also return. Newcomers include junior outside hitter Kimberly Wooster, and seniors Sung Wha Kang (setter), Seo Hyun Park (defensive specialist) and Ribka Herrera (outside hitter).

Hough and Wooster are expected to lead the attack, with Kang running the 5-1 offense.

“McKenna plays club ball and has played for quite a few years, so she has some experience,” Jackson said. “She’s going to drive my line as a middle. Kim is new to Saint James and she’s a firecracker. She is absolutely an athlete, so she’s going to take over on the outside. ... Kang played for me on the JV team last year and I did that intentionally so I could train her. She made the varsity last year, but I knew I needed to have a setter, so I kept her back with me.”

Wooster also is expected to be one of the team’s top defenders, with Guillard and ninth-grader Sophie Abeles contributing.

“We’re going to be in another rebuilding year. I don’t have crazy expectations,” Jackson said. “My basic goal and the team’s goal is to get better with every practice and every game.”

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