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Four individuals, one team set to be inducted into Howard County Women’s Athletics Hall of Fame

The inductees into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame for the class of 2020 are (clockwise from top left): Greeba Barlow Gamble, sisters Stephanie Knouse and Becky Knouse Perillo, Lee McDuff Elkins and the 1980 Howard volleyball team.
The inductees into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame for the class of 2020 are (clockwise from top left): Greeba Barlow Gamble, sisters Stephanie Knouse and Becky Knouse Perillo, Lee McDuff Elkins and the 1980 Howard volleyball team.

The Howard County Women’s Athletics Hall of Fame will celebrate its 24th year of recognizing outstanding contributions with an induction ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 15 at Howard High School in Ellicott City.

The ceremony will take place in the gymnasium in between a varsity basketball doubleheader. At 5 p.m., Howard’s girls will take on Long Reach; a boys’ game between the same schools is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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This year’s inductees are Lee McDuff Elkins (River Hill, 2001), Greeba Barlow Gamble (River Hill, 2001), sisters Becky Knouse Perillo (Centennial, 1994) and Stephanie Knouse (Centennial, 1995) and Howard’s 1980 volleyball team.

Including this year’s class, the Hall of Fame will have 89 women, nine men and two teams (Mt. Hebron’s 1980 basketball squad is the other).

Here is a look at this year’s inductees:

Lee McDuff Elkins

Lee McDuff, a cross country and track star at River Hill from 1998 to 2001, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Lee McDuff, a cross country and track star at River Hill from 1998 to 2001, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame. (LLOYD FOX)

Accidents happen.

And sometimes, for the better.

Lee McDuff Elkins didn’t set out to become a 10-time state running champion.

“I started running really by accident,” said Elkins.

She had never run competitively before, but decided to join the River Hill High School indoor track team the winter of her freshman year. Her brother, DeForest, a year older, had run indoor track the previous year and found it a good way to stay in shape for spring club soccer.

“I didn’t really think much of it when I joined,” said Elkins, who had just finished her JV soccer season.

In her first meet, Coach Norm Belden entered Elkins in the 3200 meters (two-mile).

“I am sure he had no expectations for me, and I didn’t have any for myself either,” said Elkins, who graduated in the Class of 2001. “I ran it in about 13 minutes having never run a race or trained at all. I remember Mr. Belden giving me this huge smile, while probably wondering who I was, and getting really excited. By the end of the indoor season, I nearly won the county title in the 3200.”

Outdoor track was next, and Elkins didn’t disappoint, referring to it as “my breakout season.”

“I was still unknown in the running community, but people were starting to hear about me and were starting to become interested in my ability,” said Elkins, 36, who lives with her husband, Scott, daughter Holland, 3, and son Taylor, 2, in Boulder, CO. “I started training harder in between the indoor and outdoor track seasons and took my training more seriously that spring.”

And then it happened.

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“One of the high school memories that stands out the most to me was winning my first state title that freshman year, running a sub-11 minutes 3200 race and beating out one of the best runners the state had seen in so many years,” said Elkins, recalling the race of nearly 22 years ago. “It is actually one of the only races where I can remember every single part of it — truly from the beginning to end.

“I can remember how I started, when I made a move into the lead, how I felt when I realized I was going to win, how I ended up seeing the clock when I finished (10:59.48), and how I thought — ‘OK, whoa, this is for real’ — when I stood in the infield upon finishing.”

River Hill cross country coach Earl Lauer remembers that race, too. It was the first time he saw Elkins run.

“She obviously had incredible ability, both natural and acquired, through the years of playing youth soccer,” Lauer said. “Who could predict how many, if any, state championships she would win, but she certainly had talent and potential.”

At the end of her freshman year, Elkins, whose brother and two younger sisters all played soccer at River Hill, decided the world’s most popular sport wasn’t for her.

“Soccer was pretty much an afterthought and I committed to Coach Lauer that I would try cross country in the fall,” said Elkins.

“I convinced her mother, after her freshman season of outdoor, to give up soccer and give cross country a try — at least for one season,” said Lauer. “She did and the rest is history.”

Elkins won one Class 3A state championship in cross country, was a state runner-up and was a three-time winner in both the East Regionals and Howard County championships. She also was a three-time Howard County Runner of the Year in the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times.

Elkins earned six state titles in indoor track – a three-time champion in the Class 2A/3A 3200 meters, a two-time champion in the 2A/3A 1600 meters and she anchored a winning 4x800 meter relay team. She was a three-time All-County selection and a three-time All-Metro selection in the Baltimore Sun.

Elkins was a three-time Class 3A state champion in outdoor track in the 3200 meters and a two-time state runner-up in the 1600 meters. She was an All-County selection all four seasons and a two-time All-Metro pick.

Lauer said Elkins “was focused and driven as a young athlete. She was coachable and gave 100 percent at every workout. She pushed herself to the limits.

“An example of going beyond the ‘edge of the envelope’ occurred her sophomore year at the state championships. While leading the race by 40 yards with about a mile to go, she blacked out and was unable to finish. We learned from that experience. She placed second the next year and was state champion her senior year. I would describe her as focused and tenacious.”

Elkins, who never had an injury in four years, said that her first year of cross country (a 3.1 mile race) “was challenging for me.”

“I was really inexperienced and Mr. Lauer taught me everything — how to train, how to race, how to run flat courses and how to break opponents,” said Elkins.

She also credited cross country teammate Mike Prada with helping her out.

“He really looked out for me like a big brother,” said Elkins.

Elkins said Belden, who coached her in indoor and outdoor track, “was so good at what he did that sometimes it felt like he was my own personal coach. He was there for me at the beginning, middle and end of every race I ran, and the same went for our practices.”

Elkins said she was fortunate and grateful to have Lauer and Belden as her coaches.

“I’ll be forever thankful to both of them,” she said. “They both gave me years of unconditional support and encouragement, especially as I was new to the sport and inexperienced. We developed a bond that went beyond coach and player.”

When it came to picking a favorite, Elkins said that she “enjoyed track more than I did cross country. I liked the variation it provided with some shorter races, and I always enjoyed being a part of the 4x800 relay team. Even though the 800 meters was stretching my personal limits, it was exciting in a different way. I think I also excelled more in track because I think the 3200 meters was more of my sweet spot as a runner.”

So why did she run?

“I am not sure why,” said Elkins, who works at Insight Economics & Integrity Seminars as its Head of Operations & Economic Analyst. “It’s a challenging sport in general, but now as someone in her mid-30s who runs every day the challenge it presents is one of the things I like the most about it.

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“Today I like the solitude it brings me, the opportunity to be alone and think . . . or not think. I like that it is hard and physically and mentally straining — that’s what makes it so rewarding in the end. I still like the feeling of being outside for a run and passing someone who is fast and has good form. Perhaps I will never shake that feeling. It’s an energizing sport mentally and physically.”

Elkins attended the University of Virginia and graduated in 2005 with a double major in economics and psychology. She ran cross country at UVA for one season “then decided to give my (competitive) shoes a rest. There was too much outside of college sports that I wanted to pursue.”

She worked at the University of Virginia Medical Center as a research assistant, tutored students in math at area high schools, helped raise money for Gallaudet University and worked in advertising for a local magazine.

“I also went to countless UVA football, soccer and basketball games as a fan and remain a huge UVA sports fan today,” said Elkins. “Graduating from Virginia is one of my most memorable life experiences and remains one of my proudest life achievements.”

Elkins said she was fortunate to have such supportive parents, David and Marie, and siblings (DeForest, River Hill Class of 2000, Shelley, River Hill Class of 2004 and Claire, Wilde Lake Class of 2005).

“My siblings and I have always all been close and have all been huge overachievers in most everything in life with zero competitiveness between us,” she said. “Whether it be in sports, in academics, in our careers, and now in our new families, we have always wanted the best for each other.”

Elkins said that she was “honored to be receiving this award and to be recognized . . . I feel privileged to be a part of this prestigious group of women in Howard County.”

Elkins admits that sometimes she thinks about the athletes her two children will become. Her husband, Scott, is 6-foot-6 and played basketball and soccer growing up. He still is active. At 5-foot-4, Elkins admits that she hopes her children will get some of her husband’s height.

“I guess when it comes down to it, I simply want my kids to be happy and to do the best they can in any sport they choose,” said Elkins, who moved to Boulder in 2015 and continues to run every day. “Hopefully we expose them to many different choices and they find a sport or two where they have a strong passion and even better if they end up doing well at it.

“Either way, we will always be an active family,” she continued. “We take them out hiking now regularly, a few times a week, and I look forward to the day that my son or daughter can go for a jog with me. My brother’s oldest son is 11 and my brother says some of his most special times with his son is when they go running together. I really look forward to that.”

Greeba Barlow Gamble

Greeba Outen Barlow, who was a two-time Howard County girls basketball Player of the Year at River Hill, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Greeba Outen Barlow, who was a two-time Howard County girls basketball Player of the Year at River Hill, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame.

The letter was sent by Georgetown University.

Inside, it let the young basketball player know that she was on their radar.

“We would love for you to attend our school,” it read.

Greeba Barlow Gamble was in the 7th grade.

Georgetown was right, Gamble had undeniable talent at a young age and was only going to get better. And she did just that.

Gamble was a four-year varsity starter at River Hill High School before graduating in 2001. She was named Howard County Player of the Year and a first-team All-Metro selection in the Baltimore Sun in both her junior and senior seasons.

“She’s one of the best players ever to come out of this county,” said River Hill girls varsity basketball coach Teresa Waters, who took over the Hawks’ program when Greeba was a sophomore and still is coaching there today. “She was a pure scorer that could play any position.”

Howard High School girls basketball coach Scott Robinson was coaching at Mt. Hebron during the 2000-2001 season when his team faced Greeba. Both teams were 12-0.

“We had a group of multi-sport athletes competing against Greeba, who was just a baller,” said Robinson. “She was clearly the best player on the floor at handling the ball and had a great jump shot. She also had good size for a point guard, which — combined with her elevating for her jumper — made her very difficult to defend. She was on a different level than any player on the floor.”

Gamble, who averaged 16 points per game as a junior and 18 her senior season, said she modeled her game after Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. She worked hard on her footwork and midrange shooting, she said, and wanted the ball when it counted most.

“I wanted to be the person who hit the game-winning shot,” said the 5-foot-10 Gamble. “I loved the pressure.”

She also loved to watch film of Pete Maravich, one of basketball’s greatest offensive talents.

“I used to watch old Pistol Pete films and mimic my flash from him and how he used to dribble and pass the ball,” said Gamble. “I was a big streetball fan so I tried to incorporate that with my skills to fit into an organized basketball team.”

Gamble could shoot better – she developed a strong fade away jumper -- pass better – she saw the floor well and anticipated well – and jump higher than her opponents. They knew it, she knew it and she didn’t hesitate to show it.

“It was swagger and confidence,” said Gamble. “I just knew that my skill set was better than anyone I played against. I felt like I was untouchable, that no one could guard me.”

That belief in herself led to acrobatic drives to the basket, no-look passes and a passion to give the crowd something to remember. She played aggressively and could take over a game.

“I love to score, but I love to do it where everybody says, ‘Wow!” Gamble told reporter Carol Graila for a story after her senior season.

Waters agreed, saying in 2001 that Gamble was a “fierce competitor” who “enjoys playing in front of a crowd. She’s an entertainer.”

Gamble averaged 12.5 points her freshman year and was named Second-Team All-County by the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times. River Hill beat Oakland Mills that season, but the Scorpions, who were coached by Waters, would go on to win the Class A state championship.

Gamble’s sophomore season was difficult. She hurt her back and her relationship with Waters, her new coach, got off to a rough start.

“We bumped heads,” said Waters. “Her talent was there but her work ethic wasn’t there. She was special, but she wasn’t going to be rewarded for not working.”

“Mrs. Waters is a great coach and person,” said Gamble. “She wanted me to do things her way and I wanted to do things my way.”

Eventually, their relationship improved.

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“I needed to mature as a person and as a player,” said Gamble, who averaged 8.6 points as a sophomore. “Mrs. Waters helped me become a better person, which helped me become a better player.”

By her senior season, Gamble, a team captain, became “more responsible and accountable,” said Waters, adding that she “got the job done.”

The Hawks finished 23-2 her senior season and Gamble led the team in scoring in 17 games. She scored 20 or more points nine times and had a season high 34 against Atholton. She finished her career with 1,233 points.

River Hill went unbeaten in Howard County her junior and senior seasons and was 47-3 overall.

Despite the team’s success, there was disappointment. In both her junior and senior seasons, River Hill lost at home in the regional final.

“I wish we had accomplished more as a team and I wish I had played better,” said Gamble. “I do think about what I could have done different to win the game, but that’s a part of life. You have to move on if you want to continue to be great.”

Gamble, who participated in high-level AAU tournaments during her high school years, had many colleges interested in her. Georgetown never wavered and was the first to offer her an official scholarship.

But Gamble was looking for something else, and Georgetown didn’t make the cut. She ended up selecting George Washington University.

“GW was a hard transition for me,” said Gamble. “I went from being with my parents to now being responsible just for myself and following directions on a Top 25 team that was very disciplined. GW was a teaching lesson for me.”

After two seasons, Gamble decided to transfer. “I was not happy as a person or a player,” she said.

She transferred to St. John’s University and learned that “the grass is not always greener on the other side. I made the best of it,” said Gamble.

She was named Big East Player of the Week several times and got to the Sweet 16 where St. John’s lost to eventual national champion Maryland. “That was one of my toughest losses of my career,” said Gamble. “We were up the whole game and lost it with one minute left. We made lot of stupid mistakes.”

Gamble, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree (Criminal Justice) and Master’s degree (Sociology) from St. John’s, played professionally with the LA Sparks and teams in Puerto Rico and Africa.

“I was able to play pro ball for a couple of years” said Gamble. “I traveled the world playing basketball, something that I loved so much.”

Gamble and her husband, Edward, have a 4-year old son, Eddie Gamble Jr., and live in Columbia. Gamble, who enjoys golfing with her husband, said her son already is learning basketball skills and “can play any sport he wants except football.”

Gamble works as a territory manager (Northern Virginia, District of Columbia) at Boston Scientific for its Cardiology division. “I help give physicians direction on how to use our products during procedures,” said Gamble. “It’s a tough and consuming job, but it’s very rewarding because we are helping a lot of people.”

She also owns a company called Sports Unlimited Express that created a dribbling device called the BballMachine. “It helps improve dribbling skills and strength,” said Gamble.

Gamble said receiving the letter from Georgetown University as a 7th grader “set the stage for a successful basketball career. I am proud of being disciplined, hardworking, determined and passionate, which led me to be a successful college and professional basketball player.”

She said she was honored to be a member of the Hall of Fame.

“To me it means that hard work and dedication pays off in the long run,” she said.

Becky Knouse Perillo, Stephanie Knouse

Sisters Stephanie Knouse, left, and Becky Knouse Perillo, who were star tennis players at Centennial in the early 90s, are being inducted as members of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Sisters Stephanie Knouse, left, and Becky Knouse Perillo, who were star tennis players at Centennial in the early 90s, are being inducted as members of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame. (Sun File Photos)

Facing Becky Knouse Perillo or her sister, Stephanie Knouse, in a Howard County tennis match during their playing days at Centennial High School meant only one thing — you were going to lose.

Becky, who graduated in 1994, finished with a four-year record of 52-0 against county opponents. Stephanie, a 1995 graduate, did the same.

“I’m very proud of going 52-0. It meant a lot to me,” said Becky. “It meant that on my good days, on my bad days, while playing singles or doubles, while playing with different partners, while facing many different competitors, while playing in different types of weather, while playing at home or away, I was able to persevere.”

“It was a record that I was proud of accomplishing,” said Stephanie. “It was important to me to contribute to my team’s overall score. Being undefeated in county matches became more important to me as I progressed in my years at Centennial.”

Added Becky: “I was so proud that Stephanie also went undefeated. I’m happy that I can share that accomplishment with her. It’s fun to talk and reminisce about all of the experiences that we shared throughout our tennis careers.”

And what careers they had. Centennial was county champion each year they played. Becky was named Co-Player of the Year by the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times from 1992 to 1994, the last two seasons with Stephanie. And Stephanie was named Player of the Year in 1995.

Becky won four county and four regional tournaments, capturing three women’s doubles titles (one with Stephanie) and one singles title in each category.

Stephanie had third-place finishes in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles her first two seasons in the county tournament. She won the county women’s doubles with Becky in 1994 and captured the county singles title in 1995. At the regionals, she won mixed doubles with Brian Ruppert in 1993 (they lost in the state championship), women’s doubles with Becky in 1994 and singles in 1995.

Their most coveted prize came in 1994, when the sisters — who are 15 months apart — decided to play doubles together in the postseason.

“Becky had come close to winning a state title before and it was her last year,” said Stephanie. “It was a time to try with me.”

“It was our last chance,” said Becky, who finished third at the state tournament in 1991 and 1992 in women’s doubles. “We thought it would be a nice idea to go for the state championship.”

They won 6-0, 6-1 in the championship match against South Hagerstown.

“When I look back at my high school sports career, I am most proud of winning the state title in 1994 with my sister,” said Becky. “It was very meaningful to earn that title with my little sister because we grew up playing tennis together — I started playing at 6 and she started at 5.

“We’re so privileged to share a long history together filled with so many memories of so many matches played over the years — matches played together and matches against one another.”

During their three years together at Centennial, the sisters played wherever was best for the team. Becky was the No. 1 player with Stephanie right behind.

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“Becky was the better player in high school,” said Stephanie. “She was just more mentally strong than I was.”

“I was consistent, persistent and patient,” said Becky when asked what made her a good player. “Stephanie was much of the same, except she would hit more winners.”

Tracy Stefan, a 1993 Wilde Lake graduate, became friends with the sisters after moving to Columbia in the seventh grade. She traveled to junior tournaments with them and she competed against Becky in USTA and high school matches.

Stefan and Becky were also teammates on the UMBC tennis team and played doubles together for two years.

“She’s probably the smartest player I’ve played with and against,” said Stefan about Becky. “Her shot selection was brilliant and she really had an all-around game. There really wasn’t a weakness to pick up on.

“She was so consistent that she would drive opponents nuts,” added Stefan. “You couldn’t figure out how to beat her. And she was very competitive. She wanted to win.”

In her senior year at UMBC, Stefan played Stephanie, who attended Towson University, in a singles match.

“She beat me,” said Stefan. “Her movement was really good, she had a terrific forehand and a very good serve. I remember her more as a power player.”

Stefan, who said she considers the sisters “my lifelong friends,” said she doesn’t remember the sisters being rivals in high school.

“I remember them getting along,” she said. “They were great athletes with great attitudes and sportsmanship.”

While Becky had the upper hand over her sister in high school, Stephanie took on a different identity in college.

“I kind of enjoyed having my own team where I wasn’t the ‘litter sister,’” said Stephanie. “It was nice to have my own experience at Towson. We played in different conferences and I was able to raise my game and play at a high caliber level.”

Playing in the American East Conference, Stephanie compiled a singles record of 73-15, the winningest singles record in Towson history. She was the team’s Rookie of the Year in 1996 and MVP in 1998 and 1999. She went 24-2 her senior season, the program’s second-best single-season singles record.

She was an American East Scholar-Athlete three straight years and was co-captain her junior and senior seasons.

“In high school I was the older sister and had an advantage over her,” said Becky. “When she got to Towson it was her opportunity to blossom and shine and she did that. It was pretty impressive what she accomplished. I was very proud of her.”

Stephanie graduated in 1999 with a major in Spanish and a minor in Mass Communications. She currently is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Furman University in South Carolina. Stephanie, 42, lives in Greenville, S.C. with her husband, Ramon Galinanes, and their two children Lucy, 8, and Leo, 4.

Becky earned a full scholarship to UMBC and was named team MVP her freshman season. UMBC won the Big South Conference championship in 1998 and Becky was undefeated in the conference championship tournament.

Becky graduated with a double major in Biological Sciences and Psychology. She later earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Baltimore. Becky, 43, works as a Specialist in the federal government and she and her husband, Chris Perillo, live in Columbia with their two children, Luke, 4, and Leia, 2.

The sisters played against each other only once in college — a doubles match that was won by Becky and her partner.

Becky and Stephanie lived with their parents, Ken and Nancy, across the street from the Owen Brown Tennis Club in Columbia until the family moved to the Centennial area when Stephanie was 8.

Ken was an active player at the Columbia Association club and “he would get us on the court as well,” said Stephanie. “We hung out there and played.”

The girls were active in USTA junior tournaments — Becky beat Stephanie three times in tournament finals — and playing indoors during the winter seasons made a difference in their games.

“That definitely contributed to our success in the spring. It really kept you sharp,” said Stephanie. “I was fortunate to train with different coaches.”

The Knouse family was named by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) as Maryland Tennis Family of the Year in 1994. Ken, who is on the board of the Howard County Tennis Association, and Nancy continue to be active in the USTA community, playing in many leagues in the area.

Becky said her mother became more serious about playing after the girls went to college.

“I enjoy hearing about her matches and going to watch her now,” said Becky. “I’m thankful to my parents for encouraging my sister and me to play tennis — it has proven to be a great lifelong sport, just as they promised it would be. Tennis has also taught me so much about life — how to win, how to lose and how to face adversity.”

After graduating college, Becky taught tennis for the Columbia Association for nearly 10 years.

“I loved working with junior players and enjoyed encouraging their love for the game,” said Becky. “It brings me great joy to hear that some of those juniors ended up playing tennis in college and continue playing today. I’m hoping to be back on the courts again myself this summer now that my kids are a little older.”

Stephanie studied abroad in Granada, Spain for a few months after graduating from Towson. She was a teaching professional at a number of clubs and also coached through the Columbia Association. She was a high school coach at Good Counsel from 2000-2002 and at Mt. Hebron in 2005.

Stephanie continues to play tennis “for exercise and fun,” she said. She has run in six half-marathons and currently is training for her seventh later this month in her hometown. She ran the Baltimore Marathon in 2003.

She said she was proud to play on a sports team and represent her high school and college. Those experiences, she said, “honed skills that would serve me well in other aspects of my personal and professional life — determination, persistence, critical thinking and collaboration.”

She added that she was “tremendously grateful for the opportunity to teach and coach tennis. I enjoyed working with students who were at the same point I was only a few years earlier. I found that giving back in this way was invigorating and gratifying.”

Stephanie serves as a mentor to athletes at Furman, “providing them with the academic and moral support that they might need,” she said. “I take this mentorship role very seriously and I hope that Furman student-athletes have benefited from my perspective and approach.”

And somehow, she finds the time to work with women — athletes and non-athletes — in the university setting.

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“I have seen that many young women undervalue their worth, contributions and/or accomplishments because often that is what our society would like us to do,” said Stephanie. “For this reason, I am extremely thankful for this recognition and I would like to say to young women that they should always be proud of their accomplishments on and off the field. Keep moving forward, be steadfast in your efforts and convictions, and know that you have much to offer.”

Howard 1980 volleyball team

The 1980 Howard High volleyball squad poses for a yearbook photo. The team, which went undefeated and won a state championship, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame.
The 1980 Howard High volleyball squad poses for a yearbook photo. The team, which went undefeated and won a state championship, is being inducted as a member of the 2020 class into the Howard County Women's Athletics Hall of Fame. (submitted photo by Lynn Kelsey Tracey)

Sue Kelsey McNamee knows she hit the winning shot that gave Howard High School its only state volleyball title.

That’s because “my sister, my mother and all kinds of people have told me,” she said.

“Honestly,” said McNamee, “I have no recollection of it at all.”

Howard County has won 28 state volleyball championships, half of them by Centennial. Howard High’s Class B title in 1980 was the county’s first.

Those who remember McNamee’s shot — an unexpected dink that found the floor ahead of a diving Hereford player — will tell you McNamee knew exactly what she was doing.

McNamee, who was a sophomore at the time, is not so sure.

“It’s very possible I miss hit it and that’s how it ended up,” said McNamee, laughing. “I would like to say I did it on purpose, but I don’t know.”

What McNamee remembers well about the 1980 state champions was the closeness they shared and their respect and admiration for their coach, Rich Asendorf.

“We were really a close-knit group,” said McNamee, who lives in Jacksonville, FL. “We hung out and did things together. There were a lot of good friendships on the team.”

And that closeness played a big part once they walked onto the court.

“There was a trust among the players,” said McNamee.

“We didn’t have incredible individual players,” said Laura Brotzman Randazzo, who was one of four seniors on the team. “We had good players who played well together. We knew each other.”

“There weren’t any selfish players,” said Kelly Freeman Miller, who took up the sport as a junior on the title team. “We were really good working together as a unit.”

And directing the Lions every step of the way was Asendorf.

“Coach A was amazing,” said McNamee.

“He was the best coach I ever had in my entire sports career,” said Miller, who also played basketball and softball at Howard and volleyball (two years) and lacrosse (one year) at UMBC. “He never raised his voice and was a very positive motivator.”

“He was very good at observing what your strengths were and developing them,” said Dina Cook Johnson, a junior middle hitter on the title team.

“He was calm and encouraging,” said Wendy Bachman Golden, a 6-foot senior outside hitter on the 1980 team. “He definitely pushed us and made us believe we could do it. He could see the end result before the end result was there.”

Randazzo said Asendorf was the difference between the Lions being good and being a state champion.

“I credit him with 90 percent of it,” she said.

“He had a calm confidence,” said Lynn Kelsey Tracey, a junior on the title team and the sister of McNamee. “We trusted he knew what he was doing.”

“He never got upset or raised his voice in anger,” said Rita Hamlet, a junior on the title team. “He was calm, he was smart and he was really good with a lot of drills. He would keep us at it until we got it. He would also listen to us and work with our strengths.”

“He didn’t tolerate being nasty toward each other,” said Randazzo. “If you had a bad day you got over it a lot easier. He made us all resilient.”

Randazzo added: “You never doubted that he was trying to help you. He was kind and had good input. You trusted his judgement, and that flowed through the whole team.”

Asendorf, who started coaching Howard volleyball in 1974, gave his players most of the credit.

“They really made an effort to get along with each other,” said Asendorf, who graduated from Howard in 1963 and taught Social Studies there for 36 years before retiring in 2005.

Asendorf, 74, said his team’s mental toughness gave them an advantage.

“In volleyball you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “They made mistakes and went on to the next play. They didn’t get mad at each other. They were very even keeled. It gave them a chance to win it all.”

The Lions got close to the state title in 1979. They finished 11-4 and earned county and regional championships. They were the first county team to make the state tournament but lost every game.

“We just fell apart. We were awful,” said Randazzo. “To this day I still don’t know what happened.”

The team’s disappointment became their inspiration for the 1980 season.

“We were driven to get back to states,” said Tracey.

“We only lost two people (from the 1979 team) so we thought we could make it back and redeem ourselves,” said Randazzo.

“We got a taste of the states and we knew we could do it,” said Hamlet. “That was our goal.”

And they made it look easy. The Lions finished 12-0 and captured county, regional and state titles.

The state tournament had a round-robin format in 1980, and Howard and Hereford ended up playing for the title. It came down to one game.

Howard took a 12-6 lead before Hereford came back to tie it at 13-all. Hereford took a 15-14 lead and served for the championship (teams only got points when they were serving). Howard’s defense held and Howard won the next three points on Susan Johnson’s serve for the championship.

Which brings us back to the dink.

“Susan was smart enough to just dink it over their blocker and no one was behind,” said Asendorf. “It landed and that was it.”

With so much intensity in the arena, everyone was waiting for a big hit to end the match. The dink shot caught many by surprise.

“It was an odd way to win such a big competition,” said Hamlet.

“It was shocking,” said Randazzo. “It was very quick and unexpected.”

While her teammates jumped up and down, hugged and screamed, Randazzo had to step away.

She needed a drink of water.

Inside the arena at Catonsville Community College, she found a water fountain.

“I was crying,” said Randazzo. “Then a girl from Hereford comes up and she’s crying, too, and I felt really bad for her. We were crying for different reasons. Tears of joy and tears of defeat.”

Randazzo said that was her “most vivid memory” of the day.

Asendorf stepped down following the 1980 season.

Howard won a third straight county title in 1981 and finished with an 11-1 record. The Lions lost in the regional tournament.

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Asendorf’s first team at Howard failed to win a match. Howard’s only victory his second season came on the last match of the year.

But things slowly began to turn around. He started investing in younger players — he started a junior varsity team in 1977 — and his drills and approach to the game started paying off.

Hamlet said she saw an advertisement about junior varsity tryouts for the 1978 season.

“We had never played sports before and we literally just showed up,” said Hamlet, who brought along her friends, Diana Cook Johnson and Sue Johnson. “We had never touched a volleyball and by our junior year we were state champions.”

Asendorf, who officiated high school and college volleyball matches during the 1980s and returned to coach Howard’s varsity team in 1991 and 1992, spent a lot of time on drills — especially serve receive and passing.

“We really worked hard in practice,” said Tracey.

He also specialized his strategy. For example, he took his setter, Helen Fitzpatrick, a senior on the title team, and put her in the back row.

“That was different and it helped us,” said Tracey.

Leslie Cosby, a senior on the 1980 team, was the middle hitter and the one player Asendorf trusted to block.

“We didn’t block except for Cosby in the middle,” said Tracey. “We just covered the floor and it worked.”

Golden was the team’s go-to hitter on the outside. She said Cosby was a better overall player.

“I was a little bit uncoordinated,” said Golden with a laugh. “Even when I spiked the ball I really didn’t know where it was going.”

Golden added that she felt that Fitzpatrick “was the glue” to the team.

“I would say Helen’s personality mired Mr. A’s,” said Golden. “She was quiet and hard working.”

The chemistry of the 1980 team was undeniable to those on it.

“The girls were very friendly, upbeat and easy going, just a fabulous group of ladies,” said Miller.

“I can’t remember any drama within the team,” said Randazzo. “Everyone on there was a nice person.”

The bond they had created and the skill they had acquired made the 1980 team unbeatable, and allowed them to accomplish what they had set out to do.

And maybe, just maybe, they had another reason to win.

“I suspect we were glad we got this done for Coach A,” said Tracey.

The members of the 1980 Howard High varsity volleyball team are: Helen Fitzpatrick, Laura Brotzman Randazzo , Leslie Cosby, Wendy Bachman Golden, Kelly Freeman Miller, Lynn Kelsey Tracey, Dina Cook Johnson, Sue Johnson, Lisa Capps, Beth Carter, Lisa Bachman, Lori Witmer, Sue Kelsey McNamee, and scorekeeper Jane Ordovensky.

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