Francis Scott Key and parity make trying to pick a winner in this weekend's Carroll County volleyball tournament a difficult task.
The tournament starts today at 4 p.m. at Key and consists of a round-robin format with two-game sets.
It will continue tomorrow starting at 9 a.m., and the two teams with the best records (by games won and lost, not matches), meet for the championship around 1:30 p.m.
Key comes in as the tournament's true wild card. The Eagles won their first seven matches this season, but they have not played any Carroll County competition.
In fact, this is Key's lone chance to play county rivals, something coach Leo Totten said his team likes.
"That's one of the real nice things for us," said Totten.
"Here's a chance for all of the schools to see each other in a tournament set-up. It's really nice that we get to renew some rivalries."
The Eagles renewed a few of those at the initial tournament last year as they made it to the finals before falling to Westminster.
Totten returns with a strong nucleus -- juniors Nicole Keffer, Erin Ness, Stephanie Stambaugh and Cindy Sheedy along with seniors Amy Brooks, Kristy Hollman and Ericka Rutzebeck.
"For us, it's a challenge being the smallest school in the county," said Totten. "It's a challenge for us, and we like that motivation."
The other four teams will have plenty of motivation -- thinking they might be able to win the tournament.
All four have similar records and spent much of the early part of the season beating each other. Any of the four teams -- North Carroll (5-2), Liberty (4-3), Westminster (4-3) and South Carroll (3-4) -- could win.
"I think it's pretty wide open," said North Carroll coach Don'a Martin.
Martin said the mental aspect will make or break her team. The Panthers will be in the middle of three straight days of competition when play begins today.
The Panthers have a very balanced team that can play consistent volleyball. Led by seniors Stacy Cook, Wendy Redmer and Kathleen Tunney plus juniors Karen Carter and Carisa Kreichauf, North Carroll can do some damage.
Westminster has been up and down, but coach Dana Falls thinks his team could win it all.
"If we play well, I really feel that we can beat any team in the county," said Falls. "We have to put everything together and really be at the top of our game."
Falls said seniors Carisa Cook and Jacie Mathias and junior Honesty Drumgoole should help the Owls. Drumgoole and Mathias can be very effective at the net, especially blocking, something Falls said could be a key.
Liberty has been sliding recently. The Lions won their first four matches, but when Tara Prozialeck went down with a knee injury during their loss to Westminster, coach Helen Derwin said her team got shaken up.
"We've struggled a bit," said Derwin, who added that Prozialeck is out for a few weeks. "We were really starting to get it together when Tara went down. We just need to be focused as a team and concentrate on what we can do."
Derwin said she'll need good efforts from senior Ashley Davis and junior Candice Young.
Davis, a strong-side hitter, should get plenty of help from Young, one of the county's top setters.
South Carroll, which made it to the state finals last year, lost five of six starters from that team and has struggled at times this fall.
Coach Debbie Eaton said her team must play consistently and serve well. Eaton said seniors Amy Stephenson and Kelly Johnson along with juniors Courtney Butler and Ce Wagener should spark the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers have been up and down, and Eaton said a tournament victory could give South Carroll -- or any team -- a nice midseason spark.
"Whoever plays well this weekend will have a little bit of a push for the rest of the season," said Eaton. "It could be a little bit of a lift."