One word described the Western front line of Chanel Wright, Danielle Davis and Renee Smith at the start of the volleyball season.
"I needed to learn the game," Wright said.
The 5-foot-11 junior did, as did Davis (6-2) and Smith (5-11). They combined to form a powerful starting front line and, along with the play of setter Kim Osborne and others, helped No. 15 Western (16-1) win the Class 4A North Region title and advance to the state semifinals today at 5 p.m. against No. 1 Severna
Park at Watkins Mill.
Wright and Davis never had played competitive volleyball before but enjoyed watching it. Smith played two seasons ago, and after prodding from Osborne, they all came out for the team this fall.
Coach Shirley Williams said she knew that Wright and Davis were athletic -- they play on the highly touted Western basketball team along with fellow starters Tesha Tinsley and Ayanna Jenkins -- but they needed to learn this sport, as did 6-2 newcomer Lisa Jackson.
The combination has given Western a front line others fear. Perry Hall coach Pam Wilt said that Wright, Davis and Smith might have intimidated her team early in the region-title match Thursday. Western won the opening game, 15-2.
"I knew they'd develop very fast," Williams said. "I think they've really come along."
At the beginning, Wright said, she needed to work on everything, including how to hit the ball and how to jump.
"I just worked hard every day," Wright said. "The girls helped me a lot."
Osborne, routinely described as the glue of the team, spent lots of practice time working with the three, especially Wright.
Said Williams: "[Osborne] really tries to help everyone on the court."
Day after day, they muddled through a variety of practice drills to sharpen Wright's skills. Osborne and the others also worked hard with Davis, Smith and Jackson.
They also learned quickly, but Wright really stepped up.
"I was totally shocked at how quickly she caught on to the game of volleyball," Osborne said. "She's just like a spark. She's just what we've been looking for."
The Doves did well last year, advancing to the regional final before losing to Perry Hall, but started slowly this year, losing to Edmondson in the opener.
After that, the Doves took flight.
They have won 16 consecutive matches, including two strong performances in the regional playoffs last week.
Western swept Walbrook in the first round and earned revenge against Perry Hall in the region final with a four-game victory.
Western's power factored heavily into both victories.
Osborne repeatedly fed Wright, Smith and Davis at the net, and more often than not, they put the ball away.
The Doves will need a lot of that against Severna Park, a team with a storied tradition.
"Severna Park is a very, very experienced team with athletes," Williams said. "I think we've just got to stay focused and not get rattled."
Regardless of the outcome, Osborne said she will not forget how far this team has come.
"It is very surprising," Osborne said. "If people could see us when we started off, they would not recognize the team they see on the floor. We've come a long, long way."