Despite lone loss, Centennial volleyball has much to gain


November 06, 2006|By MILTON KENT

For many programs, a week between an unexpected loss and the start of the state tournament might be a time to bring the car in for an overhaul, installing everything from new stuff under the hood to a revamped exhaust system.

But for the Centennial volleyball team, the unexpected week off from Howard County regular-season play to its state playoff quarterfinal match today required nothing more than a tuneup and an oil change.

"It's unusual from the standpoint that, as a program, people aren't used to having this week," Centennial coach Jerry Hulla said. "They're used to having something in the middle of the week, and for seniors, it's really unusual. ... But they've bought into the fact that we're trying to get better every day."

"So, they look at it and say, `Well, we'd like to be playing, but we have an opportunity to get better. So we have a couple of extra days that we don't normally have, so let's see how good we can get.'"

At 12-1 and ranked third in the most recent area poll, the Eagles have the wherewithal to be good enough to capture a third straight Class 3A state championship Nov. 18 in College Park.

But the events of the past couple of weeks, specifically a four-game loss to then-No. 6 Reservoir in the regular-season finale, has impressed upon Centennial that wanting to be good is only part of the deal.

"Losing sometimes opens people's eyes to realizing that you're good, but you're not good enough," senior hitter Tehya Mockapetris said. "That's what that team [Reservoir] showed us. But we get to start over for this whole postseason. It's the team that's left standing that's the best team."

The loss to the Gators, which included two 31-29 games and 46 ties, knocked Centennial out of the county championship match. The Eagles won't find out until today's 3A East region match against Long Reach whether losing to Reservoir left any psychic residue.

Chances are, however, with the kind of experience - eight seniors - and talent Hulla has, plus the relaxed approach the team has, the Reservoir loss might be little more than a speed bump.

"When you run into a situation and people say, `Oh, my gosh, you had this loss,' it doesn't cripple us because it's not the end-all, be-all," Hulla said. "We're trying to get better every day. We ran into a team that played great and had a great match. It was a really exciting high school match to watch. It's unfortunate that somebody had to lose, but that's the nature of sports. I wish we could have gone five [sets], just so we could have played longer.

"It didn't really do a lot in terms of changing where we want to go. What it did was maybe identify some things that maybe we weren't working hard enough on or we're not as good as we could be at or maybe some areas that we hadn't thought about focusing on."

After taking over this season for Michael Bossom, who went to Goucher College after guiding Centennial to eight titles in 12 years, Hulla knows that some will be watching to see how he gets the Eagles ready for tournament play.

"People could look at it and say, `All you can do is fail,'" said Hulla, who was Bossom's assistant last year. "You're in a lose-lose situation, because if you win, you're supposed to win. You have great kids, you have a great situation and you had a great coach in front of you. If you lose, then you're a bad coach. You probably screwed something up because they're probably going to win without you. Roll out the balls.

"If you worry about those types of things, you could become a nervous wreck every day. But I don't even look at that. I come in and I look at these 12 young ladies, and what are we trying to do? Every day, we're trying to get better. That's really what we're working about. We've set goals and we look at some of things that people are talking about, but we don't let them drive us."

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