Milani keeps Glen Burnie a major force, even in down year

September 15, 1995|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Sun Staff Writer

No one could see it coming. Most people are still stunned by it. And everybody still tries to find reasons for it or explain it.

"It" is the rise of Glen Burnie's volleyball team in the past five years.

The Gophers have joined a select circle of three schools in Anne Arundel County, sharing the limelight with Severna Park and Broadneck year in and year out.

Severna Park and Broadneck, located in the hotbed of volleyball in the county, are expected to be at such a lofty level. Glen Burnie is only on the fringe of volleyball excitement.

The passion for young girls in the Glen Burnie area is softball not volleyball.

Juanita Milani understands that love for softball but it hasn't stopped her from dedicating the past 18 years to making the Gophers a force on the volleyball court.

The culmination of this work came in 1990 when Glen Burnie won a state volleyball championship.

The Gophers made more waves last season when they beat Severna Park in four games, 15-12, 15-10, 16-18, 15-7, to win the county championship. The Glen Burnie success count under Milani now stands at one state title, two regional championships and two county titles.

How does she do it?

"We work mostly with what we get," said Milani. "We don't get a lot of players out of clubs. We stay away from fancy formations and offenses and just concentrate on basics. Also, we have a consistent program. Having the same coach for 18 years helps."

There was another major factor off the court last season, Milani said.

"Our fans were the best we've had in the 18 years I've been there," she said. "We could have sold out half of our home games if we were allowed to charge admission."

Arundel coach Lee Rogers said another reason for Glen Burnie's success is Milani's ability to persuade her potential players at a young age to attend the county's Parks and Recreation summer camps.

Rogers has not been so fortunate. Girls in his area say no most of the time.

For Glen Burnie, the times may be a little tougher this season due to the loss of some top players. But any team that has Amy Hutson, a junior outside hitter, is dangerous.

"Amy is one of the best hitters in the state," said Milani. "She was a first-team All-County as a sophomore and I have no qualms at all about calling her one of the best in the state."

Hutson is typical of the one or two premier players that always seem to wind up at Glen Burnie.

And to Milani's credit, she can take one or two standouts and win big with them. She has a knack for choosing just the right role players to complement the big hitters.

"There is no question that coaching means a lot to the success of a volleyball team," said Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar. "And Juanita [Milani] is one of the better coaches around. You only need a few key players such as a good setter and a big hitter to win but you definitely need a coach who can mold a team together and develop their talents to the fullest. Teamwork is so important in volleyball."

Thanks to the open playoff system, Milani will have all season to prepare her team for the regional 4A tournament.

That's why the Gophers can't be counted out in what Milani is calling a down year.

But the open playoff system that helps Glen Burnie this year was the same format that destroyed the team's chances last season.

The Gophers drew eventual state champion Northern of Calvert County in the opening round of the 4A East regionals and got wiped out in three games.

A second break for Glen Burnie volleyball this season was the formation of Northern and Southern divisions in the county, with the Gophers being placed in the North and Severna Park in the South.

That means Glen Burnie can play Severna Park for the county title again this year if it finishes ahead of Chesapeake, Northeast, Meade, North County and Old Mill.

Some of the county coaches have virtually conceded the North to Glen Burnie but Milani said: "It's not a given."

One thing is a given for Glen Burnie -- the volleyball program will remain a force as long as Milani is calling the shots.

She will continue to give nightmares to Dunbar and Severna Park even though the Falcons can send a player like 6-foot-2 senior Jennifer Holmes out on the court and she isn't even considered the team's top player going into the season.

"If Jennifer gets it going, no one can touch her," said Dunbar. "She has a vertical leap of 10-foot-3, can dunk a basketball, is bright and intelligent."

Severna Park will be competing with Broadneck, South River, Arundel, Annapolis and Southern in the Southern Division.

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