Eagles cope with 'the loss' Volleyball: Centennial's first defeat in 40 matches has the young Eagles feeling some pressure, but their coach and top senior are thinking longer term. They see possibilities.

September 17, 1998|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

Lisa Chapman wondered what the fuss was about.

"People in school were saying, 'What happened to you guys? You were so good last year,' " Chapman said. "We lost one match, and everyone is saying we're not that good. All of a sudden that stereotype has been put on us.

"It's tough, because we know we're good, and one match isn't going to say whether we're good or not. Northern [Calvert County] is a great team. I don't know if people realize how good Northern is."

Northern, a four-time defending state volleyball champion, beat Centennial last week, 16-14, 15-13, 15-8, in its season opener. The loss ended Centennial's 39-match win streak and was the first time a Centennial squad had dropped three straight games.

Things don't get any easier for the second-ranked Eagles. They travel to third-ranked River Hill for a match at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

"It's important for us to play well, to play our game," said Centennial coach Mike Bossom, whose team has won 29 straight county matches. "Both teams will get better as the season goes on, and we'll meet again. I'm not going to use this to gauge our season, win or lose, but it's important to play well."

Centennial is a strong team but doesn't have the stars it did the last few years, when 1997 graduate Meredith Price and 1998 graduate Briana Zolak were named The Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year in their senior years.

Chapman, an All-County setter, is one of this fall's three seniors on the team; the other two had limited playing time last year. Four juniors, including returning starter Beth Stradling, four sophomores and one freshman complete the roster.

"It's a learning process," said Bossom. "As I've said, the team still has to become a team. The talent and skill are there, but with all the new faces and the younger players, it's just a matter of putting it together on the court."

It is a different and challenging situation for Chapman, a captain and the team's most experienced player.

"The communication level needs to improve. That's what is hurting us right now," said Chapman, one of two returning starters. "We run an audible offense, and sometimes people are so tense they forget to talk. I think it's nervousness.

"Last year, everyone was so natural about things. People knew what to do in different situations -- they didn't have to sit there and think. This year, a little more thinking is involved, and their reaction is just a little slower. It just comes down to playing time and experience."

Chapman already has seen an improvement in practice. And she and the other players realize that time is on their side.

"What we really want is states, and that's two months away," said Chapman, who has been on two state-title teams. "We have plenty of time to improve, and everyone wants to do it."

When your school has won 11 county titles, including the last seven, and seven state championships, including six of the last seven years, expectations are high. That can be overwhelming to younger, less experienced players.

"There's a lot of pressure," Chapman said. "Why? It's the name Centennial. We've had such good teams in the past. We have a good team now, but I think some of the players are scared, [not] knowing whether they'll be able to uphold those expectations."

Chapman knows that playing scared doesn't translate into victories.

"I try to relax them, to let them have fun on the court," she said. "Some of them are so nervous they forget to have fun."

Chapman said, "Northern was a wake-up call. I think they realize what needs to happen at practice. Everyone is trying extra hard, and whether we win or not [against River Hill], as long as we play our best, everyone should be happy with it."

And what about those critics roaming the halls of Centennial?

"You have to tell them [the other players] to ignore it," Chapman said. "You know how good you are. It might take a little time, but in the end, the end result will prove how good we actually are."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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