Breezing Liberty strikes turbulence in quest of 2nd title Volleyball: Westminster, North Carroll topple Lions, who grapple with a new offense. But that just makes repeat match-ups later this season all the more important.

October 02, 1997|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

Liberty's volleyball team was breezing along a week or so ago, having lost only three games in starting with five straight victories. The defending county champions appeared to be on course toward another title.

Within the last 10 days, however, the Lions have found tough sailing. Westminster and North Carroll not only have made a race of it, both have beaten Liberty. But all three teams must face each other again during the regular season's last week.

North Carroll coach Lloyd Ford was concerned before the season began about replacing five graduated seniors, but three weeks in, his Panthers are 5-2, and Ford says: "We have a good mix of players [veterans and newcomers], and I'm really pleased with how they have progressed."

Two upon whom he depends are senior setter Jen Geiman and junior hitter Kate Wall, the dominant player in North Carroll's win over Liberty Tuesday.

Westminster (4-3) was swept by North Carroll but rebounded to sting Liberty, spotting the Lions the first game, then winning 16-14, 16-14, 16-2. Coach Michele Crouse's team, on which senior hitter Katie Righter stands out, made it two straight when it stopped South Carroll Tuesday.

During Liberty's preseason practices, coach Dave Trumbo decided to go to a 5-1 offense, with senior Laurie Meadows as the setter. A year ago, with four seniors, all under 5-foot-6, the Lions relied on a setting-passing offense.

"At the start of practice, senior Shen Poehlman thought she might be the second setter, but she accepted the change and is such a valuable player she starts on the back row," Trumbo said earlier this week.

At the same time, he has been pleased by the effort of junior Jen Bruce, another back-row starter.

"She was on the varsity as a sophomore, but did not get a lot of playing time," Trumbo said. "She has stepped up and is our second-leading hitter. She's small, but has a 22-inch vertical jump -- a tremendous athlete.

"I told her I was putting her out there and she wasn't coming off, and she has thrived in the role."

Meadows and senior Emily Stroud are the key regulars. Stroud, the tallest on the team at 5-foot-10 and a vocal, emotional leader, tops the team in kills and blocks. The quiet Meadows, who leads by example, has taken charge of the offense.

"Volleyball is such a mental game," Trumbo said. "Momentum can switch in a blink. Or, if you hit two into the net, you have to have the mental toughness to go up and get that third one."

Of his last two teams, he says, "We spent last year convincing the team it could win, that there was something more out there [playoffs] besides the county championship.

"This year, they have a positive mind-set: 'We work hard in practice. We deserve to win.'

"They want to go as far as they can, but they know if we don't pass -- and we haven't the last two matches [losses] -- we're not going anywhere. They know they're good, but they still have to prove it every time out."

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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