In the pre-game talk for Saturday night's Class 4A state championship volleyball clash between Oxon Hill and Glen Burnie, each team hints that it has a little something extra in store for the other.
Clippers coach Christine Johnson warns that she knows a little more about the second-seeded Gophers' than the Gophers' semifinal opponent, Seneca Valley, did.
Gophers coach Juanita Murdock-Milani, on the other hand, says her team will be at its best for this one -- unlike its last two victories over Seneca Valley and in the Class 4A Region IV title game against Broadneck.
"We'll have to find our service game again. We haven't been serving at our best recently," said Murdock-Milani, who brings an overall 130-58 record into the match.
After her Gophers (17-0) disposed of the Seneca Valley Screaming Eagles in three tedious games, Murdock-Milani and a few of her players lingered to watch the top-seeded Clippers (17-0) dispose of Springbrook, 15-4, 15-3, 15-13, in the other semifinal.
The Clippers dominated their shorter opponents, led by 6-foot-1 senior hitter Perette Arrington, sophomore Jill Eckenrode (5-9), freshman Patrice Arrington (5-8) and senior Emily Harris (5-6).
"I'd have to say (Glen Burnie) didn't see us at our best for that one.
My team tends to play just a notch above the team they're playing," said Johnson, whose team has lost just four games.
"I heard Glen Burnie was a team with very few weaknesses. But every team has them, so I went looking for what I could find," said Johnson, who scouted the Gophers against both Broadneck and Seneca Valley but revealed little about her game strategy.
"We try to play a basic defense and generally run with a basic offense.
On any given day, the hitting is spread out. It may come from the middle, outside, off-speed or from the back."
"From what we saw, they are big girls, so we know they'll be hitting the ball. But that's the kind of game we like to play, also," said Murdock-Milani, whose squad has won 51 of its 52 games. "We'll just have to take the ball away from the net. The girls will respond better at this level."
If the taller Clippers try to overpower the Gophers with their hitting, Glen Burnie team captain Melanie Scharf said they'll be making a big mistake.
Unlike Broadneck and Seneca Valley, which relied on a patient, defensive counterattack designed to unsettle the Gophers, Scharf said she expects the Clippers to "come right at us with everything they've got."
"Seneca Valley surprised us with their quickness, but we play better against teams like (Oxon Hill)," said Scharf, who has 140 kills and 22 blocks and serves nearly 87 percent with 29 aces. "Oxon Hill was slower in the backcourt. That's where we'll put the ball once we start penetrating their blockers."
Scharf and seniors Stacey Gilligan (180 kills, 96 percent serving with 47 aces) and Christy Hutson (158 kills, 86 percent serving, 54 aces, 55 blocks) have picked up the Gophers when they have stumbled.
Among the starters, Scharf, Gilligan, Hutson, Mandy Albrecht and Linda Fannin have combined for 177 service aces and 115 blocks this season, and the Gophers will try to capitalize on those strengths.
"(Oxon Hill) didn't seem to get the ball to their setters well so we'll try to keep the ball deep in their court, make them ad-lib more," said Murdock-Milani. "You'll see a lot more action at the net. Blocking, swipe-hitting, we haven't had those opportunities because no one has played us that way."