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College Volleyball: Underdog Hawks set for nationals

November 14, 2012|By DANIEL KAUFFMAN | kauffman@herald-mail.com

By now, the storyline is a familiar one for followers of the Hagerstown Community College volleyball team.

For 10 straight seasons and 19 of the past 22, the Hawks have won the Region XX tournament title to earn a spot in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. They’re almost always the favorite to win the region title, and they almost always head to nationals as significant underdogs.

HCC (24-3) is at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio, for this year’s national tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday. The Hawks are the 15th seed out of 16 teams and will open against No. 2-seed Grand Rapids (35-1).

While Hawks fans know the drill, more than half of this year’s team has yet to experience it for themselves.

“We have six freshmen, so it’s going to be a new experience for each of them,” Hawks coach Ann Reynolds said. “They don’t really understand. Six of the 10 players haven’t experienced this level yet, but they’ve heard about it.”

Reynolds said HCC is playing its best volleyball of the season, rolling through the region tournament two weeks ago without dropping a set.

“They were, of course, really excited about the Region XX tournament,” Reynolds said. “They played great in the tournament. (Northern Virginia) has a really good team and Southern Maryland is always strong, but the girls worked really well as a team.”

Grand Rapids is sure to give the Hawks a crash course in national-level volleyball.

“Last year I saw them play at nationals. I know they’re better this year ... and they’ve got some pretty tough hitters,” Reynolds said.

Fortunately for HCC, its calling card is its defense — and it’s a team-wide specialty. Freshman Tiffany Rohrer ranks 14th nationally at 5.20 digs per set, and sophomore Victoria Broadwater (4.29 digs), sophomore Emmalyn Stahl (3.79 digs), freshman Callie Butts (3.58 digs) and sophomore Paige Kitchen (2.26 digs) round out a group that doesn’t give up points easily.

“When you look at Maryland JuCo, I think we have four of the top five defensive players stats-wise,” Reynolds said. “We focus a lot on defense in practice and they’ve done a great job for us this year.”

The Hawks also boast a well-rounded offense led by Stahl — who ranks 12th nationally at 3.78 kills per set — and sophomore Elise Manning, who averages 3.40 kills and ranks second nationally in hitting efficiency (.462).

Butts (2.39 kills) moved from setter to outside hitter this season and is third on the team at 2.39 kills per set. Kitchen is the primary setter and averages 8.51 assists per set.

“Callie transitioned to the outside this year and she did great for us. I was really impressed with how she made that transition,” Reynolds said. “She and Emma are really tough and we’re really lucky because they’re good both offensively and defensively.”

Manning also ranks second nationally with 1.64 blocks per set — a skill that’s much-needed against the big hitters the Hawks are sure to see.

“Elise plays tough in the middle and blocks really well. Last year was a good experience for her, playing at the national tournament and seeing the players at that level,” Reynolds said. “She’s motivated and she’s come a long way this season.”

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