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Key wins with unity and levity


The secret to Francis Scott Key's successful volleyball program over the years has been a simple case of harmony.

It's the first thing fifth-year coach Leo Totten addresses at the start of every season and something the Eagles have lived by.

There are no individuals, instead one cohesive unit. The same cheers and support can be heard from the bench whether the first team is on the court or the second.

"If we're not having fun, it's not worth the effort," Totten said. "This team plays together and has a lot of fun."

The formula brings success on a regular basis at Key and, on occasion, special teams. This may be one of them with the Eagles off to a 6-0 start and ranked 14th in The Baltimore Sun's metro poll.

It first became apparent last season when the Eagles reached the state playoffs for a second straight year with a nucleus of juniors and sophomores. It didn't take long for the Eagles to start thinking about this year.

"I'd say on the bus ride home from states we were all ready to go," said senior co-captain Ericka Rutzebeck. "All through basketball and softball and then during summer we were talking about playing volleyball again."

Rutzebeck, an outside hitter, is one of three seniors on the squad, joining setters Kristy Hollman and Amy Brooks as team captains. Behind them are four juniors -- hitters Stephanie Stambaugh, Cindy Sheedy, Nicole Keffer and setter Erin Neff -- who all got the valuable experience at states last year and are hoping to build on it this season. A handful of newcomers also have surfaced.

"We're really excited about the season, but trying to keep things in perspective," Brooks said. "We know what it's going to be like if we can get back to states and instead of thinking 'Wow, we're in states,' we're going to be ready to play knowing we've already been there. For now, we're just looking on improving from game to game."

They know it won't be easy and are keeping things in perspective.

"Basically, there was no pressure on us last year. We were starting four sophomores and considered it a growing year," Totten said. "The experience makes a world of difference. We knew there would be a little more pressure on us this year and everyone worked in the off-season to make themselves better."

The Eagles are just now getting into the brunt of their schedule with a visit to Smithsburg tomorrow, Catoctin at home Thursday, then the county tournament at Key on Friday and Saturday. Totten knows it's a cliche, but insists it is important for the Eagles to take things "one match at a time."

They're doing just that and having fun along the way. "I think team togetherness is the biggest part of it," Hollman said. "We're all friends and hang out on weekends and stuff. That helps out a lot."

Added Rutzebeck: "We're just having a blast. Mr. Totten will tell you we're the goofiest team he's ever coached."

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