Shannon Saltzman and Laura Taneyhill play different positions, rely on different skills and fulfill different roles for Centennial's volleyball team. But the point they drive home is the same.
The Eagles, undefeated and basically unchallenged so far in theirdrive toward their second state championship in three years -- they had won 39 of 41 games going into last night's match against Hammond -- bring many flavors to their mix.
They have outstanding depth, as Coach Bill Shook's 10-player rotation reveals. They rarely make glaring errors, as their 94 percent service success rate indicates. Theyhave two superb setters in Sezin Omer and Carrie Shadrick. They don't get caught out of position. They pride themselves on back row defense and perfect passes. They complement their obvious talent with refreshing unselfishness.
But the team's signature, its trump card, isthe one-two, offensive punch that junior hitters Saltzman and Taneyhill provide at the net.
"They present a certain confidence," Shooksays. "We have these two outstanding hitters, and everybody else elevates their game because of them."
Saltzman and Taneyhill cause a host of problems for the unfortunate souls on the other side of the net. The Eagles' game plan is simple: Keep the ball in play with a high-percentage serve, then attack, attack, attack.
Saltzman and Taneyhill are their big guns.
Saltzman paints a menacing picture as Centennial's middle hitter. At 6 feet tall, with long arms, a 23-inch vertical leap and quick feet, she can soar above blocks and turn a good set into an easy point quicker than anyone in the league. She leadsthe team with 90 kills.
"I wasn't very good at first. I couldn't set for my life, and I couldn't coordinate my hitting. I had footworkproblems, timing problems. I had periods where I couldn't hit the ball with my hand," recalls Saltzman, a former gymnast, dancer and cheerleader who decided to take up volleyball at Shook's urging during her freshman year. This is her second season at Centennial.
Taneyhill is the perfect complement on the outside. At 5-8, she is the Eagles' most versatile, athletic player. Helped by a 25-inch vertical leap,Taneyhill has been the source of some of the most vicious crosscourtkills seen in the county this year. The Eagles' leading hitter last year, she is running a close second behind Saltzman with 78 kills.
And the damage these two create isn't one-dimensional. Saltzman, forexample, uses her height to frustrate offenses routinely. She leads the Eagles with 20 point blocks. Strictly a front row specialist lastyear, she worked hard in the off-season to refine her passing skillswith Shook at the Columbia Volleyball Club. This year, she has become a strong defender in the back row as well.
"She (Saltzman) learns so quickly. I've never seen anyone learn that fast," says Taneyhill, who has played volleyball since the eighth grade. Taneyhill, also afine defender, has an all-around feel for the game. She started as asetter for the Eagles' junior varsity as a freshman. Her background is reflected in her excellent passing and service receive skill.
"This (outside hitter) is my favorite position. It gives me a sense that I can do anything when I'm out there," Taneyhill says. "I feel like no one is going to block me. I feel like we (she and Saltzman) own the net. We've played next to each other for two years here and played club ball together for three years. We've gotten used to each other. We know each other."
The Eagles, eager to erase last year's second-place finish in the county standings and disappointing loss in theregional finals, have rarely been threatened during their 13-0 start. Saltzman and Taneyhill have left their marks.
Saltzman's finest night came against Mount Hebron three weeks ago. She led the Eagles to a four-game victory with an overpowering 16-kill, five-point block performance.
Taneyhill has had her moments as well. Against Oakland Mills two weeks ago, she recorded nine kills on perfect, 16-for-16 hitting to lead the Eagles to a three-game victory. In a three-game rout of Atholton two nights later, while Saltzman sat out with the flu, Taneyhill recorded nine more kills, including five straight to tie a school record.
"They have different duties, different requirements," Shook says. "Shannon is trying to be deceptive and less powerful. She uses her height and quickness at the net. Timing isn't as critical for her.
"Laura's role is to pound the ball before a double block forms (in front of her). Laura has got the tougher job of developing that acceleration before taking off. She has to have perfect timing."
Centennial has been perfect for two months. After an encouraging preseason scrimmage against undefeated, top-ranked Severna Park (Anne Arundel County) -- Centennial is No. 2 -- the Eagles have dispatched opponents so quickly that Saltzman and Taneyhill typically have played only two full games per match.
As they bear down for the post season, the Eagles present a sharp contrast to last year's team.
Those Eagles peaked at midseason with a blowout victory over Hebron, then battled internal problems while losing three of their final seven matches before the playoffs. These Eagles, bolstered by a power game that has yet to be stopped, have maintained their harmony off thecourt and their edge on it.
"They (Saltzman and Taneyhill) command a lot of respect," Shook says.
"We can do so much. We can run Shannon one way to draw the block, and leave Laura all alone. When theyconcentrate on Laura, they've got Shannon to deal with. When they are in the front row at the same time, what do you do? It must be frustrating for teams to prepare for us."