Lack of size doesn't put wins out of reach

Volleyball: Despite not having any starter taller than 5 feet 9, the Liberty volleyball team has used its experience, athleticism and teamwork to forge a 9-0 record.

High Schools

October 14, 2001|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The presence of the Liberty volleyball team, before taking the floor, would not strike fear in any opponent. With an average starting lineup standing at just 5 feet 7, and no starter taller than 5-9, intimidation is not the Lions' best weapon.

Once they do take the floor, however, everything changes. Closer examination reveals an experienced, athletic and fiercely competitive squad that has played well this season. The Lions have won 36 games and lost just two in posting an overall record of 9-0.

With five starters and four second-team All-County selections returning from last season's region finalist team, Liberty expected to be good. But no one expected the Lions to be this good.

"We don't have the go-to girl to pound the ball, which I've had every year I've been here," said Liberty coach Dave Trumbo, whose team last went to the state semifinals in 1997 and has lost in the regional final three straight seasons.

"Every year, I've had one kid who could absolutely, flat-out, nail it. I don't have that this year, so I was wondering how that would work out. But our passing has been outstanding, and our setter mixes it up so well to draw single blocking at the net, that we have five kids that can really nail the ball pretty well."

That balance showed during last weekend's county tournament, where Liberty unseated seven-time defending champion Francis Scott Key. Over 10 games, the Lions' five senior starting hitters -- Becky Neubauer, Joanne Brophy, Becky Trumbo, Holly Steinaker and Lauren Ford -- all had between 15 and 23 kills. Meanwhile, junior setter Laura Shand, who at 5-9 is Liberty's tallest starter, had 80 assists and 12 blocks.

"Everybody's good," said Becky Trumbo, who along with Neubauer and Brophy is starting on the varsity team for the third season. "It's not just like one person's the leader. Everybody contributes in every area."

Aside from a balanced offense, the Lions (9-0 Central Maryland Conference, 4-0 Carroll County League) have also been successful in two other crucial areas -- serving and defense. At the county tournament, Liberty converted on 214 of 224 serves (.955) and had 32 aces. This season, the Lions have served at a 92 percent clip. Brophy leads the team with 24 aces and Neubauer has 20.

In back, Liberty is a unusual team in that it does not start any defensive specialists. But everyone contributes, as is evidenced by the constant diving for balls. In Thursday night's three-game sweep over Westminster, it appeared at times as if the Owls were banging the ball against a brick wall.

"Overall, we've got good volleyball in the county," said Westminster coach Michele Crouse, after the 15-8, 15-6, 15-3 defeat to Liberty. "That just says even more about Liberty. Typically, the way we played in the first two games [Thursday night] we should have won one. But we didn't."

Another reason for the Lions' success is their experience. Aside from a starting lineup that has started a combined 14 years on the varsity, all 12 players have played club volleyball.

"We have tremendous athletes, who have all been taught how to play volleyball," Dave Trumbo said. "What really sets us up is our second unit. In any good program you are going to wait your turn to get on the court. Our second unit is playing so fantastic in practice, that it's allowing us to get better every day."

To return to the state semifinals, Liberty still must get by a regional bracket that includes county rival South Carroll and several Montgomery County teams. However, it appears that the Lions have even loftier hopes.

"It's definitely a goal of ours to make it to states," Shand said. "It would be disappointing to not win the state title, because we have a great senior class, and when they leave it's going to be hard to replace them. So we're thinking this is definitely the year to do that."

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