Ask North Carroll volleyball coach Linda Richards about her team's rivalry with county foe Liberty and she'll respond, "What rivalry?"
"Any county game is a big game. I don't feel any particular rivalry with any county team, and I coached long, long ago, when all we played was county teams -- I like to win them all."
In recent years, the biggest of the county matches has been Liberty against North Carroll. Tonight's match at Liberty is no exception.
Both the county title and Central Maryland Conference crown are on the line.
The visiting Panthers (10-4, 5-1 in the county and 8-3 in the CMC) also will be jockeying for position in the region playoffs. Liberty (11-3, 4-1, 9-2) -- which won the county title and reached the state finals last year -- is all but assured the top spot in Class 2A, Region I. North Carroll is battling with Allegany and Glenelg for one of the last three playoff spots.
Lions coach Helen Derwin says she is expecting another tight match between the two. In their earlier match this season, Liberty quickly led 2-0 only to see the Panthers battle back to cause a fifth and deciding game -- won by Liberty.
"North Carroll always comes ready to play," Derwin said.
"We're going to have to dig deep and play our style of aggressive attack volleyball. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by winning the county outright and getting a share of the CMC."
Both coaches have an idea who they have to shut down if they want to come out on top. Liberty's primary concern is snuffing North Carroll's top hitter, Joy Huber, a junior, and Richards remembers a strong game from Liberty junior Cailin Lawlor in the first meeting.
"It looks like a fairly even match," Richards said.
"They are not overwhelming in height, and neither are we. Based on what we saw earlier, I guess we have to stop Lawlor, but we can't let things open up for their other players."
Derwin is looking for consistency from her Lions.
"Last time we played hard, then lost concentration and came back and played hard again," she said. "We need to stay with our aggressive style, and I think we should do well."
North Carroll, coming off a mediocre 8-7 season by its standards, wasn't sure it would be in position to claim county or CMC titles this year.
"It has come along better than I expected," Richards said.
"Some of the kids who came up from JV have done very well, and we weren't sure going in how they'd respond at the varsity level."
A big key has been the play of junior Jenny Renner, who started as a hitter before being switched to the team's top setter. Richards also said sophomore Katy Wilhelm and junior Danielle Arnold -- both hitters -- have played major roles.
Last year, the Lions had 6-foot hitter Kelly Foreman to turn to. This year, it has been a balanced attack with different players stepping up at different times.