Four eye berths in football playoffs

Westminster, South Carroll in good shape

Winters Mill, F.S. Key have shots to boost county's presence



As many as four county teams could wind up qualifying for the state football playoffs, following wins by each on Friday.

Westminster, a lock to qualify in Class 3A West, improved to 7-1 with a 49-14 victory over Liberty. And South Carroll (6-2) also appears in a solid position in Class 2A West following its fourth straight win, a 34-14 triumph over Walkersville.

Two other teams in Class 2A West also improved their playoff hopes, with Winters Mill (5-3) defeating Frederick, 14-0, and Francis Scott Key (5-3) routing Middletown, 34-6.

Winters Mill and Francis Scott Key will meet in the Nov. 11 regular-season finale, a game that could send the winner to the postseason.

Until now, the most county teams to make the playoffs in the same season has been two, with Key and Westminster qualifying in 1976. Only two county teams, Key in 2000 and South Carroll in 2003, have advanced to the playoffs since 1989.

"I don't really think that the quality of [county] football has ever been poor, but one of the problems is that we always seem to be taking a backseat to the Frederick County schools," said Winters Mill coach Ken Johnson. "This year, we're doing a little bit better job of winning some of those games. I think that's got a lot to do with it."

The playoffs expanded from 32 to 64 teams in 2003, with 16 teams now qualifying in each of the state's four classes, broken down by enrollment. They will include the top four teams in each of four geographical regions, based on the state's points system.

Under that system, teams receive points for victories - the higher an opponent's class, the more a win is worth - and additional points based on victories by defeated opponents.

Volleying for title

A pair of sisters from Finksburg will play major roles this week in helping CHEN defend its National Homeschool Volleyball Tournament title.

Katie Rhein, a 5-foot-8 junior, is the team's top server, with 94 percent accuracy and 96 aces. Amanda Rhein, a 5-10 freshman, leads the Bravehearts in kills with 3.8 per game, dominating around the net like few other 14-year-olds in the metro area.

Together, the pair has helped CHEN continue its winning ways, despite graduating the majority of its talent from a year ago.

Roberta Holehouse, an All-Metro hitter now at Penn State, and Brittany Umetin, an All-Metro setter now at the University of New Haven, had been the nucleus of a squad that went undefeated over two seasons and won last year's 25-team national tournament.

Coming into this season, the Rhein sisters were CHEN's only two returning varsity players and knew they had to take on leadership roles.

"Most of our players are semi-new, and we had to get everyone to work together," Katie Rhein said. "We've experienced two or three years on CHEN, so at least we know how this program works."

In what looked on paper to be a rebuilding year, the Bravehearts - led by first-year coach Carol Green, the Rheins' mother - have been more than competitive, compiling a 12-5 record and drawing consideration in The Sun's rankings.

It's a trend they know will have to continue if they expect to compete for another national title. This year's tournament begins tomorrow in Bellevue, Neb.

"We just have to play as hard as we can every chance that we get," Katie Rhein said.

One for books

Friday night, Westminster's Kevin Clancy became the first quarterback in Carroll County history to surpass 2,000 yards passing during a regular season.

The senior threw for 397 yards in the Owls' 49-14 win over Liberty, giving him 2,172 for the season. He has two more regular-season games and at least one playoff game in his bid to better T.J. Swanson's all-time county record of 2,451, set in 2003 when Swanson was The Sun's All-Metro Offensive Co-Player of the Year.

More than 500 of Swanson's yards that year came during the postseason.

Panthers' turnaround

A wealth of experience has translated into success this season for North Carroll's volleyball team. With seven returning players, including three with club experience, the Panthers entered play this week at 8-3. They were 6-8 last season.

Among the highlights has been a four-game win over county rival Winters Mill, as well as a pair of tournament victories over the No. 14 Falcons.

Coach Bridget Griffin said the key has been better communication on the court, the result of team unity.

"Some teams can have their little cliques and groups. This year, this entire team has been one," Griffin said. "They've hung out together, done team dinners together, done team activities together, and I think it's really brought them closer together."

The Panthers have gotten major contributions from a number of players, including hitters Heather Langsdale, Katie Sanberg, Laura Wixted and Kara Reese, and setter Amanda Bamberger.

With the Class 3A West regional playoffs scheduled to begin Friday, Griffin feels her team has the potential to leave its mark.

"As long as they stay as a team, I think they'll do well," she said.

Lions regain form

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