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Prep Volleyball: Leopards, Hubs aim for repeat success in state finals

November 15, 2012|By DANIEL KAUFFMAN | kauffman@herald-mail.com

The Smithsburg and North Hagerstown volleyball teams will take the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum court tonight hoping to leave it the same way they did to end last season.

As state champions.

In search of its fourth straight Class 1A state title and a ninth title overall — which would tie Northern Calvert for third-most in state history — Smithsburg (16-3) will face Perryville (13-6) Friday at 6 p.m.

North Hagerstown (17-1) will follow the Leopards onto the court to face Centennial (18-0) in the 3A final at 8 p.m. The Eagles’ 14 state titles are the most in state history and they’ll try to make it 15 against a Hubs team looking to repeat.

The 1A final is a rematch of last year’s championship, which the Leopards won in a sweep.

Those are familiar words for Smithsburg come playoff time. The Leopards have won 19 straight playoff matches, including the last 17 in sweeps. With another victory tonight, Smithsburg will join Williamsport as the only Washington County teams to win four straight state titles — the Wildcats achieved the feat from 2002 to 2005.

Smithsburg senior Haley Caudell was in the Ritchie Coliseum stands to watch Sara Rishell, Colleen Black and the 2009 Leopards start the streak, before joining the varsity team in 2010 and taking part in the last two championships.

“It’s so exciting,” said Caudell, who is second on the team in kills and first in blocks this season. “It’s trying to keep the legacy going. Even when I was a freshman, seeing the energy and the support of the school and the community, to be a part of it now is amazing.”

Smithsburg can count on Caudell and junior Amanda Snowden — one of the county’s most feared hitters — for offense. Sophomore Payton Belella has been solid running the Leopards’ offense, and sophomore libero Marissa Dangler anchors the defense.

Perryville will be looking for a little revenge against the heavily favored Leopards, who must be wary of Panthers left-hander Emily Merklinger, the team’s top hitter and blocker.

Smithsburg is sure to take Perryville’s best shot, but that’s nothing new.

“We always talk about having pride about being the team that everybody wants to knock off,” said Leopards coach Rachel Brashear.

The 3A final has the makings of a classic — one that could very well live up to North’s five-set victory over River Hill in last year’s final.

The Hubs have exceeded expectations after losing several key players from last year’s squad to graduation, including Autumn Fisher, Iman Scott, Brynne Kirsch and Mollie Johnson.

Senior Peyton Wallech has blossomed into North’s unquestioned leader and is another of the county’s best hitters. Junior setter Sarah Bentley, sophomore middle hitter Zoe Schreiber and sophomore libero Alexis McCarthy have stepped into new roles with success to put the Hubs on the brink of a repeat.

North has been on a roll since a season-opening five-set loss to Francis Scott Key that seemed to light a fire in the Hubs.

“That loss gave us a lot of motivation,” Schreiber said. “Nobody likes to lose.”

“We underestimated FSK,” North coach Megan Crawford said. “That made the girls work harder. They made it here last year and wanted to come back.”

Centennial will present a formidable challenge. The fundamentally sound Eagles can attack from many angles -- including Trisha Mockapetris and Meghan Kelley outside and Katie Havlik and Jessie Link on quick-hitting plays in the middle. Kelley and Lexi White-Torruellas are strong servers, and the defense was solid in a sweep of semifinal foe La Plata.

“I can tell they’re a good team,” Crawford said. “We’re going to have to play our game and play the best we can play.”

North is used to the challenge. After all, the Hubs beat two state finalists — Smithsburg and Williamsport, which will play for the 2A title on Monday night — on the way to the MVAL Antietam title.

“It’s really cool that the other two teams are here,” said Hubs senior Lauren Serafini. “That’s what prepared us to be here. Those hard games prepared us, and our county is great.”

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