Two of the three undefeated teams in the MVAL Antietam volleyball standings met Wednesday, and Clear Spring cleared a big hurdle in its quest for a conference title with a 23-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-19 victory at Smithsburg.
The victory leaves Clear Spring and Williamsport as the two lone unbeaten teams in conference play. Here’s a look at the standings through Wednesday:
Clear Spring 2-0 Antietam, 8-1 overall
Williamsport 1-0 Antietam, 8-1 overall
Smithsburg 1-1 Antietam, 6-3 overall
Boonsboro 1-1 Antietam, 4-4 overall
Catoctin 0-1 Antietam, 5-4 overall
Brunswick 0-2 Antietam, 0-9 overall
And here’s a look ahead at the key Antietam matchups coming up:
Friday — Catoctin at Williamsport, 6:30
Monday — Boonsboro at Clear Spring, 6:30
Monday — Smithsburg at Catoctin, 7
Oct. 16 — Williamsport at Smithsburg, 6:30
Oct. 16 — Boonsboro at Catoctin, 7
Oct. 20 — Clear Spring at Williamsport, 6:30
Oct. 21 — Smithsburg at Boonsboro, 6:30
Certainly, Williamsport and Clear Spring have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do, before either team can worry about their match 12 days from now. Catoctin and Smithsburg are both capable of knocking Williamsport off, and Boonsboro will give Clear Spring a battle. But there’s a good chance when the Blazers and Wildcats meet, that match will decide the conference title.
It was Clear Spring’s overall balance that made the difference against Smithsburg.
The Leopards are certainly better than they were a year ago — that was expected with the vast majority of the team back, a year older and more experienced. And they came out flying on the way to taking the first game, relying on their strength — their two talented middle hitters, Sara Rishell and Colleen Black — to show the way. Rishell and Black each had five kills and two blocks in Game 1, and the Leopards had 15 kills in the game to Clear Spring’s seven.
Rishell finished the match with 15 kills and five blocks, and Black added 11 kills and four blocks. Combined, they won the battle in the middle — although Emily Pinkham (12 kills, five blocks) helped Clear Spring take some of the edge off that advantage.
But the Blazers’ advantages in two other areas — outside attacking and assists — more than overcame Smithsburg’s edge.
Amanda Jenkins was a beast on the left side for Clear Spring, leading all players with 16 kills. She’s not the tallest player, but when she gets a head of steam up as she approaches the ball, look out. She lives up to the term “attacker” … she’s not going for a tip, she’s going to let ‘er rip, and most of the time Wednesday, her rips found the mark. Smithsburg had no answer for her.
“She’s a real big catalyst for this team,” Blazers coach Kim Malphurs said. “The girls have a lot of respect for her game.”
Clear Spring also received contributions from Lindsay Lacy (seven kills) and Lily Pinkham (six kills). After being a non-factor in Game 1, Lacy had two kills and a block in Game 2 and added four kills in Game 4. Lily Pinkham had three kills and two assists in Game 2. With both players raising their game, the Blazers evened the match at one game apiece and started the momentum rolling.
The other main factor was Clear Spring’s two-setter offense wound up outplaying Smithsburg’s one setter. Taylor Belella played a very good game (23 assists, four kills) for the Leopards, but too often she was left scrambling to get to errant passes or digs. Meanwhile, Blazers setters Megan Micco (20 assists) and Katie Blickenstaff (18 assists) benefitted from having each other on the court at the same time — it made it much easier for one or the other to be in position to set up the attack.
“Both of them move the ball around so well, which is huge with our front line,” Malphurs said.
Not to be overlooked, Clear Spring’s defensive effort made a difference as well. Five players — Lacy (18), Blickenstaff (13), Micco, Emily Pinkham and Jenkins (10 each) had double-digit digs.
“Our defensive coverage, I thought, was excellent,” Malphurs said. “It was a little weak in Game 1, but after that, it was excellent.”
Malphurs said she was not concerned after the Blazers fell behind 1-0.
“We need a warmup game,” Malphurs said. “That’s how it’s been all year. I just stay patient and calm and let them go to work. I have a lot of confidence in this team.”
As for the Leopards, coach Rachel Brashear knows one loss in the MVAL Antietam does not completely eliminate her team from the title chase.
“(The league) is really anybody’s game,” Brashear said. “We haven’t played Boonsboro or Williamsport. When our passing is on, we can play with the best of the best. We just need a little confidence. … What we need is a close (match) against a team and we pull it out.”