Saying Centennial High School's volleyball team was prepared for visiting Mount Hebron is like saying Sitting Bull was ready for Custer.
The undefeated Eagles didn't just "make a statement" to the formerly undefeated Vikings, as Eagles coach Bill Shook put it. They delivered an ambush that grew increasingly painful to watch with each passing point.
By the time Centennial sent the Vikings and their fans scurrying to the exits with a 15-8, 15-9, 15-1 pounding Tuesday, Hebron was broken by the reality that shattered its expectations.
FOR THE RECORD - A caption running with a photograph that accompanied an article on Centennial High School's volleyball team in last Sunday's Howard County Sun incorrectly identified sisters Lisa and Laura Taneyhill. Lisa is a senior and Laura is a sophomore. The Howard County Sun regrets the error.
The truth is the Vikings are not yet in Centennial's class.
The Eagles left little room for discussion on the matter after conducting a shockingly easy 50-minute exercise rife with Centennial highlights.
Sixty of its 62 serves -- 97 percent -- were successful. Laura Taneyhill and Shannon Saltzman set the tone offensively, combining for 11 kills -- eight in the first game -- mostly off terrific sets by Sezin Omer.
Defensively the Eagles frustrated Hebron hitters Brooke Christopher, Andrea Day and Tracy Porter with nine blocking points, and forced numerous errant returns.
The Eagles passed superbly. They dug out balls in the back row. They hustled, they dived. They left the errors to Hebron.
And did the Vikings ever cooperate. Hebron may have been overmatched -- they held just one lead, a brief 8-7 advantage in the second game -- but the Vikings did little for their own cause.
In the second game for instance, Centennial's 15-9 victory was handed over as much as earned. The Eagles did benefit from three strong kills and six aces. The rest of the game saw Hebron self-destruct. Four Vikings serves resulted in sideouts. Balls fell to the floor in Hebron's front row as a result of miscommunication. The Vikings, perhaps tired but more likely shellshocked, stopped diving and started watching.
They fell apart completely in the third game while coach Jeannine McCrumb was reaching deep into her bench, desperate for a spark. Nothing worked. The Eagles ran off and hid with an embarrassing 12-0 lead before putting an merciful end to their shortest match of the year.
The match was never really close. Centennial jumped out to leads of 5-1 and 13-2 in the first game before winning, 15-9. The Eagles scored the final eight points of the second game to send the Vikings reeling. After falling behind for their only minute of the match, Centennial scored 23 of the last 24 points. That's known as a knockout blow.
"You saw Centennial volleyball tonight," said Lisa Taneyhill, one of just four Centennial seniors. She led the Eagles with five aces on 19-for-19 serving.
"That means playing with 110 percent effort at all times," she added.
"That means you're always on the floor. They (Hebron) came into the game with the attitude that this was their game. It was our game all the way."
The victory wasn't surprising. After all, the Eagles are defending their Class 2A state championship and haven't lost a regular-season match since the middle of the 1988 season. They're blessed with the county's premier coach, who has the premier feeder system -- the Columbia Volleyball Club -- under his control.
The Eagles expect to win and to look good doing it. Hebron may have come into the match with an impressive 6-0 record, but the Vikings looked like a team asking itself questions from the outset. The Eagles played like the team holding the answers.
Since the beginning of the season, Hebron, with its collection of tall, experienced seniors, had been touted by McCrumb and many other coaches --including Shook -- as the county's best team on paper.
When asked in the preseason which team was the best on hardwood, Shook flashed that sly, "we'll-see" smirk of his.
As unlikely as it sounds, Hebron may have underestimated the Eagles.
Centennial struggled badly against Atholton -- the only Eagles match that lasted more than three games -- before putting the Raiders away in a dramatic, come-from-behind, fifth-game victory. Hebron tuned up for its Centennial showdown by toying with the Raiders in a three-game rout.
If the Vikings did take Centennial lightly, they had no reason to make that mistake. All they had to do was examine Centennial's performance this year, let alone the Eagles' larger 35-match winning streak. The 1990 Eagles had won 21 of 23 games coming in. Make that 24 of 26.
"In a way I have to thank Atholton for tonight, because if they hadn't beaten us two games, we might have lost tonight," said Shook, referring to the only match in which the Eagles served poorly this year. "I needed a reason to yell at them.
"I downplayed this match," he added. "Since you play everybody twice, it makes the first match meaningless. The first match is more of a head-to-head scouting report."