Tonight's state volleyball semifinals pit Howard County's top two teams against two of Baltimore County's best.
In Class 3A, Howard County champion and No. 2 Centennial plays Lansdowne, second-place finisher in the Baltimore County Class 3A-4A league, at 5 p.m. at Charles Community College.
In Class 2A, No. 4 Glenelg meets Baltimore County champion and No. 3 Loch Raven at 5 p.m. at Rising Sun.
Centennial (21-1) goes after its third straight state title and its fourth in five years; Glenelg (15-2) goes for its first championship.
At this point in the season neither is expected to change its game plan.
Only once this season has Centennial deviated from its game plan -- and it was costly. The Eagles lost to top-ranked Severna Park in the North Caroline Tournament final on Oct. 16.
In that match, the Eagles dropped the first game and never recovered. They played conservatively the rest of the match, enabling Severna Park to dictate the action.
"We're an aggressive team used to hitting a lot. We basically have to stay in control of the game and not let them take over or we might start being too careful," said Centennial's Carlyn Cangiano.
"In that match, Severna Park had the momentum on its side. We started tipping a lot. We weren't playing to win -- we were playing not to lose, and you can't win like that."
Since then, the Eagles have struggled only once. In the regional final, they dropped the first game to Mount Hebron before winning three straight.
"The Severna Park match definitely helped us in losing to Mount Hebron and coming back," said Centennial coach Bill Shook.
"They remembered the last time we lost the first game and totally folded. This time, they didn't panic. The team learned how to come together rather than give in and just give up."
In most of their matches, the Eagles have overpowered the opposition. Six-foot power hitters Cangiano and Krisha Svehla have combined for 308 kills and 89 point blocks.
Lansdowne (14-2) does not have the same kind of power or height; it relies instead on strong serving. Still, Shook said that if his squad can handle the first service of Mount Hebron's Kelly Quinn, the Eagles should handle anything Lansdowne serves at them.
Another plus for Centennial is its strength of schedule.
"Our opponents don't have the advantage of playing quality teams, like Mount Hebron three times, Glenelg twice and Hammond twice. That will eventually catch up to them," Shook said.
If the second-seeded Eagles can get past Lansdowne, they would play the winner of the match between top-seeded Douglass (Prince George's County) and Walt Whitman (Montgomery County) for the title Saturday at 5 p.m. at Catonsville Community College.
For Glenelg, however, the test may be more difficult. Loch Raven (16-1), which last won state titles in 1987 and 1988, have two strong players in 6-0 middle hitter Kelly Powell and 6-0 setter Shannon Towner, whom coach Carol McPherson calls the best setter in Raiders history. Both have played for the Columbia Volleyball Club.
But the Gladiators have plenty of incentive after losing last year in the state semifinals to Mount Hebron.
"It's our last chance, my last chance," said senior hitter Marisa Davidson. "We fell short last year by one match, and no one wants to see that happen again."
The Gladiators have relied on Davidson's power as their primary weapon, but as the season progressed, the team became well-rounded. Elisa Davidson, Kerry Rutter, Susan Geisler, Jaime Marshall and Emily Kessler have come up with big plays in the title run.
Like Shook, Glenelg coach Marlene Janis looks to a strong schedule as an asset. The Gladiators lost their only two matches this season to Centennial.
"I think Loch Raven is a pretty good team," Janis said. "But I still don't think Baltimore County overall is that strong. We play a lot of strong teams throughout the season, which is helpful."
If the third-seeded Gladiators can beat Loch Raven, they would advance to Saturday's state title match between top-seeded South River (Anne Arundel County) and North Hagerstown (Washington County) at noon at Catonsville Community College.