The only time Severna Park's volleyball team had to go five games this season was against Laurel, its opponent in today's Class 4A state semifinal at Montgomery County's Watkins Mill.
The Sept. 19 match was the second of the season for both the Falcons and the Spartans. Severna Park won, 15-8, 15-9, 10-15, 14-16, 15-4, but that was a long time ago, say the coaches of both teams.
"It was early in the season and I was subbing frequently because we were still developing our offensive attack," said Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar, whose Falcons (17-0) are the top seed for the 6 p.m. meeting.
"But when Laurel caught fire, they beat us fair and square-- even in the fourth game when I had all of my starters in."
Laurel coach Mary Phillips, whose fourth-seeded Spartans are 14-2, recalled, "I remember (the Falcons) were a very hard-hitting team and theyran quick middles. And they had a tall, blond-haired girl with a ponytail who hits the ball hard down the line."
That would be 5-foot-9 senior left outside hitter April Kaiser, who leads the Falcons with144 kills and is serving at a team-high 93.1 percent clip, with 25 aces.
And the reason Phillips remembers Kaiser so well is that she had her best game -- 21 kills -- then.
Along with Kaiser is 5-7 senior hitter Cassandra Melton, who pounds the ball with a fury that belies her diminutive stature. Melton ranks second with 90 kills, followed by 5-11 senior middle blocker Catherine Kirk (82 kills) and 5-9 sophomore middle blocker Jen Conner (79 kills). Kirk leads the Falconswith 79 blocks.
Severna Park hits with power throughout its lineup, with Kate Marks, a 5-10 junior co-captain, who has 74 kills, junior outside hitter Lori Sharpless (23) and junior setter Jaime Pirotte (20).
"We'll need some blocking at the net, but we haven't been serving our best lately," Phillips said. "So I just hope we can play a complete game and run our offense against them."
But Dunbar said Laurel, whose tallest starter is 5-10 senior outside hitter Jaime O'Connell, plays the kind of "unorthodox" game that can give his Falcons trouble.
"We're not preparing for any specific type of game from them," Dunbar said. "They really pack the middle and dig. They dump the ball over on the second hit or they'll do things like bump the ballto the right rather than the left."
Said Phillips, "I don't thinkwe're unorthodox. I just call it playing good ball. Our setters justset to the easiest side. And our passing has always been a focal point. If you can't pass, you can't play. Our strengths are that we playwell as a team. We called the ball well and were able to dig up a lot of (Severna Park's) hits."
Laurel starts three 5-8 juniors in outside hitter Amy Patton, setter Nicole Mamula and middle hitter Christine Rogers. Two freshmen fill out a squad that is serving at 84 percent.
The Falcons' serving ace is Pirotte, who has converted more than 86 percent of her serves, with 47 aces. Kirk (87 percent) has 43 aces, Conner (84) has 33 and Melton (82) has 27.
"When we first played them, we were still getting to know each other," Dunbar said. "Our offense is more settled than it was the first time we played them,but they still stuck it to us in the games that they won against us."
The winner plays either No. 2 Quince Orchard or No. 3 Northern.