Bel Air is fit to be the best

The Bobcats' volleyball players have worked hard to be in top shape in preparation for making a run at winning a state championship.

November 09, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

During a volleyball camp attended by a number of players and coaches from Harford County at Towson University last summer, Towson coach Chris Riley told several members of the Bel Air team "that there was no reason they couldn't be the best team in the county."

"I was surprised," Bel Air coach Chris McDonough said. "Fallston always has a strong team. C.M. Wright usually has a strong team. It was surprising to hear that he thought we could be better than two powerhouses in the county."

Riley's words proved prescient, however. The No. 8 Bobcats were finalists in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship match and earned the top seed in the Class 3A East region.

Bel Air's success shouldn't be all that surprising, though, as the Bobcats returned seven seniors this season to go along with some talented underclassmen. Five of the seniors are in the team's starting rotation, with all seven helping out.

The Bobcats' rise began last year, when they improved to 11-3 after winning only four matches two years ago.

The seniors and McDonough knew this would be their best chance to make a run at a state championship, so the players worked hard on conditioning throughout the summer, even hiring a personal trainer once a week.

"We wanted to do whatever we could, [and] we didn't want to lose our chances because we weren't in shape enough," senior Sarah Claypool said. "We had so much potential coming into this year, and we knew that we [couldn't] let that slip by."

Getting the personal trainer required effort in itself. They brought in Rob Slade, who also works with other Bel Air sports teams, and spent much of last year working and raising money to pay for his services. Claypool said they often worked the concession stands at football games to raise money.

During the season, the Bobcats spend an hour on conditioning every other day during practice.

McDonough, who had coached the junior varsity for two years before taking over the varsity job this season, was the one who emphasized the importance of conditioning. She saw the varsity team play last year and thought that they wore down at times in the later games of long matches.

"I would notice that when they'd go in tough situations, like Game 4 or Game 5, that they'd get tired or wear down a little quicker," McDonough said. "The other teams have worn out quicker [this year], and we never stopped conditioning."

Many of Bel Air's players hadn't played volleyball before high school, and they have learned about the sport and improved their skills together.

"The core of us have been together since we were freshmen," said Gabby Long, a senior outside hitter who was last year's Harford County Player of the Year. "It's been good. We just know each other's mannerisms on the court, and it's easier to predict what each other's going to do. We can reach each other really well."

Said senior defensive specialist Megan Silberzahn: "We know how to talk to teach other, and we know what each girl is capable of. Every game, we know what we have to do and we do it. We have confidence in each other."

Seniors Sarah Smith, Meghan McDonald and Liz Meyers, juniors Katie Boyce and Gina Albano and sophomores Arlana Roland and Sarah Willey also played significant roles for the Bobcats.

Bel Air (14-1), which won the Susquehanna Division by two games over Havre de Grace, breezed through most matches this season, often winning in sweeps.

The Bobcats themselves were swept by North East-Cecil last month in the UCBAC championship match, but McDonough said it might have awakened her team heading into the regional playoffs.

To stay focused, though, the Bobcats keep going back to Riley's words last summer.

"They kept falling back on what [he said] all season," McDonough said. "[He said] you were a really strong team, so pull together. His words stuck with them all season."

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