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Centennial leaves defense to Taneyhill


It's not that she doesn't enjoy performing the glamorous feats. But when it comes to volleyball, Laura Taneyhill prefers the dirty work.

As an outside hitter for Centennial's undefeated volleyball team, Taneyhill draws the most attention by scoring points. With her three-step approach to the net, her well-timed leap and one of the hardest shots in the county, she epitomizes the Eagles.

During Centennial's march to the 3A state title last fall and its current 27-match winning streak, the aggressive offense has gotten much of the credit.

But Taneyhill has some news for you. She gets more of a charge out of playing defense in the back row. She'll take a perfect pass from her service receive position over a crowd-pleasing kill any time.

"I love it [defense]. Basically, everybody perceives me as a hitter, but I find myself challenging myself more to get in the right position and pass the ball off," says Taneyhill, a senior and three-year starter.

Centennial coach Bill Shook has turned the Eagles (8-0) into an offensive machine. This season, hitters like Shannon Saltzman, Sandy Palasek and Carlyn Cangiano and specialists like setters Carrie Shadrick and Sezin Omer have given the Eagles a combination of weapons. Offensive depth is a big reason Centennial, having lost just one game in eight matches, has gone unchallenged so far.

Like Taneyhill, though, Shook chooses to divert the attention from the front row, where most points are decided. Versatility, says Shook, is what sets the Eagles apart. And Taneyhill might be the team's most flexible player.

"Not too many players get the opportunity to play all six positions, but Laura always plays with fire in her eyes, always is out there hustling and going to the floor, and she often goes unnoticed on defense," Shook says.

"She's like the lineman in a football game, but she's also picking up the ball and scoring a touchdown. The statistics never pick up what she's doing at all six positions."

Still, the statistics say plenty. She has 51 kills in eight matches, second on the team behind Saltzman. That might seem like a modest amount, but when you consider that the Eagles have swept seven of eight opponents and have yet to play a fifth game, the total is impressive.

Taneyhill's play at the net is even more noteworthy in light of her height. At 5 feet 7, she is small compared with hitters such as Saltzman (6-0), Cangiano (5-11) and 6-foot sophomore Krisha Svehla. Taneyhill compensates with a team-high 25-inch vertical leap and excellent hitting technique.

"People walk into the gym and say 'Look at Shannon, she's great because she's tall.' And Shannon is a great player," Taneyhill says. "I feel like I have to keep proving that I can play in the front row."

She proves it all over the court. She has made only two service errors in 54 attempts, a 96 percent success rate, while averaging one ace per match. She also has averaged a team-high eight passing points a game. A passing point is credited to the player zTC who begins an offensive series by getting the ball to the setter, who feeds the player who scores.

Shook spotted Taneyhill at Dunloggin Middle School, where he recruited many players for years while teaching physical education until transferring this year to Burleigh Manor Middle School, which opened last month.

By the time Laura enrolled at Centennial, she was committed to playing volleyball 10 months a year, most of it at the Columbia Volleyball Club, which Shook opened seven years ago.

During her first varsity season two years ago, Taneyhill played a big part in the Eagles' 17-2 season by starting at all six positions.

Since that season ended with a loss to North Carroll in the regional finals, she has been a key to the best run in the school's history. The Eagles have gone 91-5 while winning 27 straight matches and a state crown since that defeat.

Taneyhill hopes to play volleyball at a small Division I college.

"With her ability as a passer and an all-around team member, she can do it," Shook says. "She hasn't even touched on her potential."

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