Shortly after she decided to take up volleyball as a freshman two years ago, Shannon Saltzman became her toughest critic.
"I wasn't very good at first," Saltzman recalled. "I couldn't set for my life, and I couldn't coordinate my hitting. I had footwork problems, timing problems. I had periods when I couldn't even hit the ball with my hand."
Fast forward to the fall of 1991, when a completely different player emerged. This year, Saltzman caused the opposition all of the problems.
As the 6-foot middle hitter for the unbeaten Centennial Eagles (19-0), who won county, regional and the Class 3A state titles, Saltzman -- the Howard County Sun's Player of the Year -- was the premier gun on a team stocked with weapons.
"There was an aura of confidence about her this year, and success goes hand-in-hand with confidence," said Centennial coach Bill Shook. "She roamed the net with this confidence that she owned the net."
And own it she did. Saltzman, whose 22-inch vertical leap coupled with her height make her especially imposing, was nearly unstoppable in the front row.
She was the county's top player on offense (league-high 149 kills) and defense (40 point blocks). An amazing 51 percent of her hits went for kills.
But Saltzman was more than a one-dimensional force. She was a vastly improved passer (14 assists, 86 percent setting success), server (22 aces, 91 percent service success), and she became a dependable back-row player.
Unlike last year, when Shook played her mostly in the front row, Saltzman stayed on the floor until the Eagles had their matches well in hand.
"She has an incredible top-spin serve, and she can really move and play the back row now," Shook said. "She worked real hard to improve her play in the back row. Her total dedicationto the game made a big difference this year."