Key tries to solve mystery of Williamsport's mastery Eagles need win over nemesis for state title

November 15, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The Francis Scott Key Eagles have been there before.

And that's what they're counting on tomorrow afternoon when ** they get another chance to solve the Williamsport mystery in the Class 1A state final set for 2: 30 at Catonsville Community College.

The No. 6 Eagles (16-1) have lost two matches in the past two seasons, both coming against their Monocacy Valley Athletic League rivals from Washington County.

The first came in last year's state final, when the young Eagles got their first look at the big arena in Catonsville. Williamsport, which lost to Clear Spring the year before, appeared at home in coming away with a four-game win.

After the Wildcats (18-1) provided Key with its only loss of the regular season this year -- another four-game win, this time in Uniontown, that decided the MVAL title -- the Eagles had a pretty good idea the two teams would be crossing paths again.

"We were expecting it from the start [of the playoffs], when we saw the brackets," said Key coach Leo Totten.

Both teams have stormed through the region playoffs and had sweeps -- Key over Colonel Richardson and Williamsport over Edgewood -- in the state semifinals to reach the final.

What will it take to get past the Wildcats?

"Mostly, execution on our part," Totten said. "The last time, we didn't play very well. We didn't pass well to get our offense started. If we can pass better this time, we can make it more difficult for them defensively and utilize our hitters."

Those hitters are seniors Stephanie Stambaugh (201 kills, 71 blocks) and Cindy Sheedy (108 kills, 34 blocks), and when senior setter Erin Ness (354 assists) is getting good first hits to work with, they present plenty of problems.

Totten also has been pleased with the way his Eagles have responded defensively in the postseason, and that's where senior leader Nicole Keffer (132 digs) becomes a factor.

The Wildcats, winners of seven state titles, counter with setter Ann Fulk and hitters Britt Jones and Angie Heil. They are not nearly as dominant at the net as the Eagles, but make up for it with a scrappy defense, steady serving and reliable first hits.

They also tend to get rolling, and once they do, are tough to stop.

In the regular-season meeting, the Wildcats snapped a 6-6 tie in the first game with nine straight points. In the third game, they jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and they won the deciding game, 15-9, after it was once again 6-6 early on.

"Their secret is they are a real good solid program from Day 1," said Totten. "It starts with their rec programs, and then you look at their JV team, which I think has only lost one match over the past five years. That base is what they continue to build on. They don't make mistakes."

The final factor for the Eagles is the experience they gained getting to Catonsville last season.

"This year, I don't think anyone is nervous -- just ready to play. We know what we're looking at, as far as the gym, all the people and noise," said Stambaugh. Williamsport "is always hard. We're just going to go out and play as well as we can."

Totten added having this year's state semifinal at Essex Community College, in a similar big arena, also will be a big help.

"We should be comfortable on Saturday," Totten said. "Hopefully, we'll come out a lot more relaxed this time. Last year, we didn't handle the pressure of the big arena with the noise level and different depth perception. It's a major adjustment, and everyone is more used to the environment, so we can relax a lot more than last year."

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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