History-making turnaround



The prospect of facing top-ranked Centennial in the state volleyball semifinals could have been daunting. For upstart North Carroll, however, simply taking the court for such a meaningful match was, in itself, a victory.

The Panthers, who were 6-8 last year, on Friday culminated their remarkable turnaround with a five-game victory over Seneca Valley in the Class 3A West regional title match. Now they'll make their first trip to the state tournament since 1990.

Given the magnitude of her team's accomplishments, Panthers coach Bridget Griffin said that her players entered last night's match feeling virtually no pressure.

"This is something they haven't seen - it's been 15 years since we made it this far," said Griffin, whose team rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games to win the regional final. "When we earned that last point and you're now regional champions, it's a feeling that words can't describe."

Two other county teams also experienced that feeling last week, with the Liberty volleyball team capturing its fifth straight regional title and Liberty's boys soccer team earning its first trip to the Class 2A state finals.

Lions soccer coach Ed DeVincent said that finally advancing to the finals, after losses in the semifinals two of the past three years, won't change his team's strategy.

"At this point, you're not going to reinvent the wheel," said DeVincent, whose team enters the game with a 14-0-3 record. "We've got to stay with the game plan. We're not going to change all season that has gotten us to this point."

With no shootouts in the state finals, however, DeVincent said that his team will look to play aggressively on offense.

"I'll put it this way - I'm not going to play for a tie," he said.

Liberty's volleyball team, which is seeking its third straight title, faces North East tonight (6:30) at North Point High School.

The volleyball finals will take place tomorrow and Friday in College Park.

Web of motivation

Driven by their aspirations, North Carroll junior Katie Hursey and the Liberty boys team drew additional inspiration from the Internet at the state cross country championships at Hereford on Saturday.

Hursey, who captured two Class 3A state crowns in outdoor track and field last spring, was irked that several chat room postings predicted that the cross country title would go to either Severna Park freshman Kelsey Hill or Franklin senior Michelle Donadio.

"I thought, `Hey, I can win, too,' " said Hursey, who crossed the finish line in a time of 19 minutes, 12.54 seconds, the fastest among the state's four classifications. "That just made me want to set more goals for myself."

Similarly, many assumed that Liberty - after graduating five runners who played integral roles in helping the Lions win two consecutive Class 2A state championships - was moving downhill.

But the Lions put five in the top 21 and edged Atholton by nine points.

"They said it was a rebuilding year. I would have to disagree," said senior Jim Ridder. "We had to go out there and show that we were a legitimate team."

Panthers sign letters

Brianna Stiff isn't certain when she will be able to resume her lacrosse career, but the North Carroll senior certainly knows where.

Despite suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament at a lacrosse tournament in July, Stiff last week signed a national letter of intent to attend and play for Syracuse.

Two other North Carroll girls lacrosse standouts, Becca Markle and Angela Hughes, signed letters of intent on Monday. Markle will attend Queens College and Hughes will attend Johns Hopkins.

Stiff, who ranked among the county's scoring leaders last season with 48 goals and 21 assists to earn first-team All-Country honors, said she chose Syracuse over St. Mary's of California and George Mason.

"I didn't even want to go up to New York, but when I went up to the college, I fell in love with the campus, the coach and the team," said Stiff, an avid snowboarder, who said she won't mind the wintry weather.

Her coach, Rob Gonzalez, said that Syracuse is getting a player who, once healed, should be able to make major contributions.

"To me, she's almost a complete player," Gonzalez said. "I rely on her defensively, she gets up and down the field and she has a great shot. She won't hesitate to give up the ball when necessary, but she also won't hesitate to take the shot when she can."

Stiff was scheduled to have surgery on her right knee last Thursday.

While she most likely won't be able to play fall ball, she hopes to begin practicing again in the winter of 2006.

Carroll Christian wins

The Carroll Christian boys soccer team was anything but a congenial host at the recent Mid-East Regional Christian School (MERCS) tournament. The Patriots won the five-state regional tournament, which took place on their campus, by defeating New Jersey state champion Pilgrim in the final, 3-1.

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