Centennial looks for return hit: 'We have the talent'

September 12, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County volleyball teams have quite a streak going after polishing off a sensational 1993 season with two state titles and three teams ranked among the top four.

Centennial and Glenelg brought home those championships and finished the season ranked Nos. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in The Baltimore Sun's final Top 15 poll. Mount Hebron, which fell to Centennial in the regional final, finished No. 4.

Howard County's Big Three have been so strong recently that they have won eight state titles in the past five years. They have swept the Class 3A and Class 2A titles since 1991. Centennial has reigned four of the past five years in 3A. Mount Hebron won three times in 2A before Glenelg took last year's title.

With that kind of strength, the competition in Howard County is fierce even though Centennial has won seven of the past 10 county championships.

So, the big question again this year is can anyone dethrone the Eagles? The answer again is maybe, but probably not.

After going unbeaten for two years, the Eagles ran up a 55-match winning streak before losing their only match and ceding the No. 1 spot to Severna Park midway through last season.

This fall, the Eagles again appear skilled and steady even though a number of familiar faces are missing, including longtime coach Bill Shook, who moved on to coach on the college level.

Still, new coach Mike Bossom, a former Shook assistant, hasn't really changed anything, so the players are familiar with the system and comfortable with their new leader. The talent is still there, especially in returning 6-foot-1 Krisha Svehla, the county's most powerful hitter and a second-team All-Metro pick last year.

"If we play to our ability, we will do well," Bossom said. "We have the talent. It's just a matter of coming together as a team. With a really good setter [Sheri Kujawa], if we have good passes, we'll be able to run a good and varied offense."

The Eagles probably face their biggest challenge from Mount Hebron, which returns five starters. Don't count out Glenelg either, even though the Gladiators lost three starters.

The fourth-place spot appears up for grabs because most of the remaining teams face rebuilding seasons. Atholton and Hammond also lost their coaches with Sybil Kessinger and Ken McLaughlin, respectively, taking over.

Howard coach Craig O'Connell said the changes in talent and coaching could make a difference.

"If you go on last year, Wilde Lake and us would still be at the bottom, but with all these changes taking place, I know four or five coaches who are waiting for the first game to see exactly how they're going to do," he said.

The biggest change in volleyball, however, comes at the end of the season. For the first time, the regional playoffs will be open to every team that chooses to compete.

Instead of taking the top four teams in each region and seeding them based on their season records, the new system places each team by a blind draw into a 16-team bracket. If a region has fewer than 16 teams, some teams will receive byes through the blind draw.

Most local coaches greeted the change with mixed emotions.

"It's great for the kids," Bossom said. "You can build a stronger program by playing better teams to get experience and not have to worry about a loss affecting your playoff standing. On the other hand, I think you should be rewarded for putting together a strong season."

The new open format could put the best match of the regional playoffs in the first round. For example, Centennial could draw Mount Hebron in the opener.

But for teams such as Hammond, which missed the playoffs by two one-hundredths of a point last year, and Wilde Lake, the county's only Class 1A team, the new format is a bonus.

"When you have to play Centennial, Hebron and Glenelg and have six losses, you're already in the hole," Hammond's McLaughlin said. "But some weaker teams that we could have beaten [from other leagues] have gotten into the playoffs. This way, at least you have a chance to show something."

Wilde Lake usually finds itself in the same predicament. As the county's smallest school, the Wildecats have fewer girls coming out for the team.

"This county is so competitive," Wildecats coach Kelly Rosati said, "but we can be a good solid 1A team that could do something in the playoffs because the teams there are more like us. When we play out of the county, we do fine -- we can hang with them.

"If we do well it could be the beginning of getting a program going here. Now, the girls know there's a rainbow at the end of the season and they can reach it, where before it was just a long dark tunnel."

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