With its 7-3 overall record, including victories over perennial contenders like Old Mill and Chesapeake, Meade's volleyball team has baffled almost everyone in the county.
Everyone, that is, except Mustangs coach Vickie Hedgebeth.
"I knew that we had talent and potential, but I think they were a surprise to just about everyone else," said the fifth-year coach.
The Mustangs (7-1 against the county 4A league) have won four straight since losing on Oct. 1 to last year's Class 4A Region IV runner-up Broadneck, 15-4, 15-5, 15-11.
"That [Broadneck loss] was a good experience for them," said Hedgebeth, whose 'Stangs have won six of their last seven matches. "It showed them the importance of serving consistently and playing as a team. We knew how Broadneck plays, and we knew what they would do. But we played as individuals, not as a team."
Teamwork has paid off.
The Mustangs entered the week having matched last year's win total. Meade was 7-7 a year ago -- compared to the 9-6 record, which earned them a playoff berth in 1989.
Meade currently ranks fourth behind Severna Park (11-0), Broadneck (8-2) and Queen Anne's (9-2) in the regional standings.
"I'd say this is the second-best year I've had so far," said Hedgebeth, whose Mustangs swept Queen Anne's in three games on Sept. 24.
The Mustangs began the season at 0-2 after non-league losses to Baltimore County's Woodlawn (in four games) and Howard County's Atholton (three games), but lost only one of 10 games in three consecutive victories over Arundel, Queen Anne's and Annapolis.
Then came the loss to Broadneck and a tough five-game victory over South River.
"We were down, 11-4, in the last game and had to come back and win, 16-14," said Hedgebeth. "That was the first time this year where we had to go to five games. That gave us a lot of confidence going into our next two games against Old Mill [a 3-1 win] and Chesapeake [a 3-2 victory]."
Meade's front line consists of 5-foot-9 senior middle hitters Vonnita Pinkett and Amy Neff.
Pinkett is the Mustangs' heaviest hitter with a team-high 56 kills and 14 unreturnable blocks. Neff has 43 kills and also serves at an 89 percent clip with 18 aces.
"Vonnita has been very unselfish this year and Amy's playing a new position, so she's adapted very well," said Hedgebeth. "But the most consistent player has been my setter."
That would be the Mustangs' most diminutive player, Nicole Smith. The 5-3 senior serves at 91 percent with 15 aces.
Rounding out the Mustangs' starting lineup are a couple of 5-5 hitters -- senior Angie Yardley and junior Emily Feld -- and junior hitter/setter Christine Merrell, who stands 5-7.
Hedgebeth has two skilled players coming off of the bench in senior 5-9 hitter Erica Tonsseldt and sophomore 5-7 hitter/setter Connie Fink.
The Mustangs face their biggest challenge today, as they play host to unbeaten Severna Park.
"In the last couple of games, we've played them tough. Last year we went five games with them," said Hedgebeth. "I think we're ready for them, but this is just one game. We've got to take it one game at a time."
Remaining on the Mustangs' schedule are matches against North County (Oct. 25), Northeast (Oct. 29) and Glen Burnie (Nov. 1). The regular-season finale against the defending Class 4A state champion Gophers could be a make or break game for either squad.
Glen Burnie (6-3), which has lost to Severna Park, Broadneck and Queen Anne's, ranks fourth in the regional standings.
"Right now, I'd say they're [Mustangs] going to be pretty tough," said Glen Burnie coach Juanita Milani. "They're real scrappy and they dig up everything."
Said Hedgebeth: "This team knows now not to give up. And I've driven home my point about serving, so now they serve to win. They'll keep playing every ball until the final whistle blows."