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A year later, dreams linger of sweeping state playoffs


This, that and the other:

With the county's high school sports teams gearing up for the beginning of practice this month, here's a question worth pondering.

Can Howard County surpass, or even equal, its incredible state playoff performance last fall?

Eight county teams won state championships, including an amazing six titles on the same Saturday in November.

Centennial High School was the day's biggest winner, as the Eagles walked away with crowns in boys soccer, girls soccer and volleyball. No school has ever turned a hat trick of that kind. Wilde Lake's boys soccer team, Hammond's girls soccer team and Mount Hebron's volleyball team also bagged titles that day.

A week before that memorable Saturday, Glenelg's boys cross country team took the 2A championship. Two weeks after the six-title sweep, Wilde Lake's football team ended the fall season in style, by clinching its second straight state championship.

Think about that for a second.

An eight-school county, one of the smaller jurisdictions in the state, won an average of one title per school that season.

It's hard to envision the county enjoying that kind of success this fall.

Who has the best chance of repeating? If there is such a thing as a lock, Centennial's volleyball team fits the bill more comfortably than anyone.

The Eagles went 19-0 last year to win their second state championship in three years under coach Bill Shook. And, having lost only two players to graduation, they return a frightening combination of height and skills.

Shannon Saltzman, the Eagles' six-foot middle hitter and the Howard County Sun's reigning Player of the Year, could be the most heavily recruited player in the state. After leading the county with 149 kills and 40 point blocks as a junior, the sky is the limit for Saltzman this year.

Then there is six-foot junior hitter Carly Cangiano, who might be the best player in the county other than Saltzman.

The list goes on.

Outside hitter Laura Taneyhill, setter Sezin Omer and back court/serving specialist Sandy Palasek -- all seniors, each an All-County player last year -- return. The bench will be loaded with players good enough to start on most county teams.

This team not only should win another state crown and go undefeated in the process, but the Eagles will have to play poorly just to lose a game.

Shook enters his ninth season with a record of 127-24 (.841 winning percentage). After this fall, his place as one of the state's top coaches will be further secured. *

While Centennial's volleyball team tries to repeat, Wilde Lake's football team will attempt the tougher task of winning its third straight state title.

The Wildecats haven't lost a game since the 1989 state playoffs. Since that defeat against Damascus, Wilde Lake has a 26-game winning streak.

Both streaks appear to be in jeopardy. The Wildecats lost 12 starters to graduation, including All-County players Brent Guyton James Easterly (OL), Andre Martin (CB), Tony Farace (NG), Cedric Benning (C), Blaize Connelly-Duggan (DL), Damon Hamlin and George Bradford (P/S). Did we mention quarterback Phil White, linebacker Aric Swezy and wide receivers Ira Crawley and Pat Brown?

Not that Wilde Lake will be helpless. They'll still have talented players such as linebackers Nate Cassella and Paul Knox and defensive back Donald Gibson to anchor an always-tough defense. But with so much inexperience and so many question marks, the Wildecats look like a team that can be had.

Even if they don't make it through the regular season undefeated, the Wildecats figure to qualify for the Class 1A playoffs. And in such a typically weak playoff bracket, Wilde Lake figures to go far again. *

Cycling enthusiasts, take note. The Chesapeake Wheel Association and the Ellicott City Business Association are sponsoring the Howard County Bicycle Stage Race Aug. 28-30.

The first stage will be a 10K race through historic Ellicott City. On the second day, cyclists will be split into three categories and will race on a Columbia Gateway course ranging in distance from 27 to 44 miles. On the final day, cyclists will compete on a course ranging from 25 to 68 miles in the Tridelphia area.

Pre-registration fee is $40, and pre-registration closes Aug. 14.

Information: Ramon Benitez 750-7968.

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