Mercer a force for Liberty in regional win



A former cast-off from Liberty's soccer team, Alex Mercer had never played volleyball before last season. These days, the 6-foot-1 junior is continuing to play the role of difference-maker for the No. 4 Lions.

In last night's Class 2A West regional final against South Carroll, Mercer recorded a team-high 11 kills to lead host Liberty to a 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 win, giving coach Dave Trumbo's squad its fifth straight regional title.

"She's taken a lot of heat during the season because, at the beginning, she didn't understand how to play volleyball," said Trumbo of Mercer, who now has 28 kills on 45 swings during the playoffs. "Now, she's a college player if she keeps working."

The Lions (16-1) advanced to Wednesday's state semifinals at North Point High in Charles County. There, they will face the winner of last night's East regional final between North East and North Caroline at 6:30.

This one was never in doubt.

Led by Mercer, 5-10 junior Melissa Stansbury (seven kills) and 6-foot senior Kristen Steinnagel (five kills, three blocks), Liberty cruised to a big lead in Game 1, then broke open close games with late rallies in each of the next two.

It was a vast difference from the first time the teams met in late September, when Liberty needed five games to pull it out. For the Cavaliers (11-6), the main difference was losing junior Sam Scurci, their second-best hitter, to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in practice earlier this week.

With her out of the lineup, Liberty was able to focus all of its attention on South Carroll's top hitter, Melissa Axtell. Though the senior finished with 13 kills, five assists and three aces, the Lions largely were able to avoid her on the defensive side.

"The whole game plan was Axtell," said Trumbo. "Everything was built around, `If she's here, we're going to do this,' just to limit her defensively. Offensively ... she's going to get her kills, but defensively we wanted to take her out. I think if they had Sam Scurci, it would have been a little bit different."

No. 2 Broadneck 3, No. 9 South River 2 -- Kanishia Sheppard had six kills and libero Bridgette Jordan four digs in the last game as the Bruins escaped with a five-game win over the Seahawks in the Class 4A East regional final at South River. The Bruins won 25-13, 25-14, 19-25, 20-25, 15-8. Sheppard finished with 14 digs, 13 kills and one block. Stephanie Carey had 40 assists, Ali Malskick had 12 kills and eight blocks while Nikki Worth anchored the defense with 15 digs for the defending state-champion Bruins (14-3). The Seahawks ended their season at 13-4.

No. 5 Dulaney 3, Thomas Johnson 1 -- Marah Schmitz led the host Lions with 13 kills, Stacey McWilliams recorded 10 aces and Allison Kilchenstein finished with 34 assists. Dulaney (17-0) wrapped up the Class 4A North title, advancing to the state semifinals, Tuesday night in College Park.

No. 7 Towson 3, Catonsville 0 -- Michelle Maas had eight kills to lead the host Generals to a 25-15, 25-8, 25-17 sweep of the Comets in the Class 3A North region final. The Generals (16-2) also got six kills and two blocks from Lauren Bader in winning their sixth straight regional championship. State Class 2A champs in 2001, the Generals will go after a second title as they advanced to Tuesday night's state semifinals at North Point High in Waldorf. The Comets, who finished the season 15-3, got four kills from Lija Glemza.

Sun reporter Katherine Dunn contributed to this article.

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