Top-ranked Centennial rolled into its ninth state final in 11 years with a 15-11, 15-5, 15-1 victory over No. 8 Hereford in last night's Class 2A volleyball semifinal at CCBC-Essex.
The two-time defending Class 2A champs, who have won a state-record eight titles, advanced to meet No. 5 Francis Scott Key for the championship at noon Saturday at CCBC-Catonsville. Centennial (17-2) has won three straight titles, including the 1996 Class 3A crown, and has won seven in the last eight years.
Last night, the Eagles had trouble putting Hereford (18-2) away early, as the Bulls' Molly Corbin had six straight service points -- three of them aces -- and Tara McElvaney's kill built a 10-8 lead. But after Corbin smacked her next serve long, the Eagles took control of the match.
"[Corbin] got on a roll over there," said Centennial coach Mike Bossom. "She served deep a couple times, a good floater. She got us in trouble a little bit. We were slow making an adjustment."
But the Bulls could not contend with Centennial's power, especially in the middle, where Lindsay Feller had eight kills and Amanda Olsen had five. Outside hitters Kim Emrich and Carolyn Dougherty contributed five kills each. Setters Michelle LeDonne and Vanessa Neuworth had 18 and nine assists, respectively.
The Bulls, who upset then-No. 10 Towson in a five-game regional final, suffered a letdown last night, said Tara Clarke, their top hitter.
"We did not play anywhere near what we should have played," said Clarke, who led the Bulls with four kills. "We just came off that really good win over Towson. That was an intense match. They were the only team that had beaten us, and we were psyched about that, so we had confidence coming in. It's just that we started to get nervous, and sometimes things don't go your way -- and you get more and more nervous."
The Bulls, who lost in a five-game match in last year's Class 1A semifinal, managed to tie last night's second game at 1-1 on Meghann Butler's ace and hold the deadlock for 10 service changes. Then the Eagles, behind two kills from Emrich, turned the momentum their way for good.
After that 1-1 tie, the Bulls managed just five more points the entire match. In the final game, the Eagles broke out of a 1-1 tie to score the match's last 14 points, including an 11-point run on Erin Rochelle's serve.
No. 5 Francis Scott Key 3, North Caroline O: The Eagles hadn't lost a game in 11 days. Unfortunately for the Eastern Shore squad, the Eagles weren't about to start in last night's other 2A semifinal at CCBC-Essex.
Junior setter Carrie Ness dished 28 assists, and junior middle hitter Sam Stambaugh registered 12 kills as Key overwhelmed the Bulldogs from Caroline County in straight sets, 15-6, 15-9, 15-4.
The Eagles are now 17-2; North Caroline ended its season at 14-4.
Ness said the team is hungry to win its first state crown since 1996.
"Our goal in every match is to get the first five points, then the first 10, then the first 15," said Ness, whose sister was on the 1996 state championship squad. "We keep pushing each other, and we never let up."
Coach Alice Smith said she felt that the key to the match was the Eagles' quick 13-2, first-game lead, explaining: "We came out strong. We came up to the net and hit some nice balls."
The Bulldogs found their rhythm in the second game, jumping out, 6-4. But five kills each from Stambaugh and junior middle hitter Adria Stonesifer helped the Eagles answer with an 11-3 run to finish the second game.
With the third game tied 4-4, the Eagles ran 11 points and clinched the match.
"We didn't communicate well at all," said Bulldogs coach Michelle Gary, attributing the loss to youth and inexperience. "We didn't perform as well as we could have. We were nervous."
-- Ed Lee