The fall sports season is closing in on the midpoint of the season, and as usual, some teams have lived up to expectations, some have been better than expected and some have struggled perhaps more than expected.
With tonight’s results recorded, here’s a look at what’s happened so far, and what I think could happen going forward (save this for a couple weeks from now when, as usual, I’m proven wrong):
This just in: Smithsburg (7-0, 2-0 Antietam) is good. What else would you expect from the defending Maryland Class 1A champs, who returned the area’s best hitter (2009 Herald-Mail Washington County Player of the Year Sara Rishell, who’s having an even better season this year) and arguably the area’s best setter (Taylor Belella, whose second-touch kills and tips are much improved)? Katie Sprecher is learning how to attack with her off-hand, and the three Danielles (Harbaugh, Beaver and Hudson) are all contributing. The Leopards have dropped one game all season (to defending Maryland Class 2A champ Francis Scott Key) and swept Williamsport (5-2, 1-1) in their first key league test. Smithsburg will be favored in every match it plays the rest of the season, and the experienced Leopards don’t seem to mind that at all.
I have seen every Antietam team in Washington County except for Boonsboro (2-4, 1-1) — a young squad which has already been swept by Smithsburg and will probably have a difficult time with the other top Antietam teams — and in my opinion, of the potential challengers to the Leopards, North Hagerstown (5-1, 2-0) appears the most likely to give Smithsburg a serious challenge. The two teams will meet in the regular-season finale in late October, and it would not be surprising for both teams to be 6-0 in conference play entering the match.
What impressed me the most about the Hubs was the play of setter Brynne Kirsch. She’s not as multi-dimensional as Belella, who is a better server and a bigger threat to put away points at the net, but Kirsch distributes the ball very well — better than I’ve seen the setters in the 6-2 formations for Williamsport and Clear Spring (3-3, 1-1) — and the Hubs have plenty of weapons to go to in Akilah McCall, Autumn Fisher and Peyton Wallech. North’s attack has been the best by an Antietam team other than Smithsburg so far in 2010, and if the Hubs keep playing as well as they have been, they can test the Leopards’ defense.
Of course, North still has to get past both the Wildcats (Oct. 5) and Blazers (Oct. 14) to set up the showdown with the Leopards. One interesting thing about Clear Spring: It appears Megan Micco has returned to the setting role she played so well last year, as she had 26 assists in a four-game victory over Catoctin tonight. If so, I think that’s a wise move, even though Micco was pretty impressive as an outside hitter when I saw the Blazers play Hancock. Clear Spring has enough weapons, especially Lily Pinkham (averaging better than three kills per game in the last two matches) and Morgan Purdham, that moving Micco back to the setter’s spot to solidify that position makes sense.
Williamsport may just need another season of experience before the Wildcats make their mark. They certainly played better against Smithsburg than in a blowout loss to Greencastle-Antrim (8-0 and an amazing 36-0 in games played, the only area team with a 0 in the games lost column), but all in all, the passing and setting is just not as crisp and on target as Smithsburg and North. It’s still a young squad, and it’s scary to think how good sophomore Stacey Christy could eventually be.
I’d sure like to see Heritage Academy (10-0, 30-2 in games) play one of the better Washington County teams like Clear Spring. The Eagles are dominating the Mason Dixon Christian Conference — no match has gone more than four games, and Heritage has swept its last 10 foes and won its last 26 games. An opponent has scored 20 or more points in only two of those games. Sophomore Kara Stamper is second in the county in kills per game (4.51), and though I haven’t seen her play yet, I’ve heard rave reviews. Some talented players have come through the county MDCC schools — like Rebecca Morgan at Grace Academy and Danielle DuBois at Broadfording — and Stamper looks like the next legit star.
Let’s give a shoutout to Hancock (5-1), which has matches its most wins in a season since going 5-10 in 2003 (the first season I have records for). I was impressed with Maureen Leavy when I saw the Panthers play. She’s not just a weapon at the net, she also has a very hard, flat serve that can cause problems, and even her back-row “free balls” are dangerous. Hancock doesn’t have the all-around talent of the best Antietam squads, but Leavy gives them the kind of presence the Panthers haven’t had in a long time, and the rest of the players play hard and don’t make many mistakes. It’s a solid team.
Looking around the rest of the area, I can’t tell you how much I would love to see a four-team round-robin tournament involving Smithsburg, Musselman (5-0, 32-13 in games and most of those losses were to elite South Carolina squads in a tournament), Greencastle and Chambersburg (6-0 in best-of-5 matches).
Musselman, the two-time defending West Virginia Class AAA state champion, has been the Eastern Panhandle’s top team for a few years now and have another loaded squad, led by setter Taylor Oates and attackers Taylor Allen and Corisha Smith. The Applemen are as close to a sure thing as a team can get to reach the state tournament again, and will be title contenders when they get there.
Greencastle’s destruction of Williamsport was one of the most impressive performances of the season. The Blue Devils are a well-rounded team, led by talented setter Erin Garns and a host of attacking options including Nikita Gearhart, Sami Rudy and Lauren Verhoef. None of the individual statistics overwhelm, but this is a team that knows how to play defense, pass, spread the attack and keep an opponent off balance with a variety of quick sets.
The Blue Devils will be tested on Monday by Chambersburg, which is a formidable team year in and year out under long-time coach Ty Frelin. The Trojans play the game a lot like the Blue Devils, although Chambersburg uses a 6-2 set with setters Aryn Rebok and Karli Frelin. Everybody contributes, including top attackers Juliana Mowen, Jada Pickett and Laishira Rivera and defenders Chelsea Miller, Lindsey Rebuck and Taylor Rogers.
Who would win a four-team tournament between the Leopards, Applemen, Blue Devils and Trojans? I have no clue, but I know I’d pay good money to see it!
COMING SOON: A midseason look at boys soccer.