OWINGS -- Centennial began last season by losing three straight games to Northern-Calvert County. The season ended with the Eagles winning their third straight state title and seventh of the decade.
Centennial, top-ranked in metro Baltimore as the season opens, left this southern Maryland town last night hoping history will repeat.
For the Patriots, winners of four straight titles in the last five years, rallied to take the first game, then never looked back en route to a 15-11, 15-6, 15-8 win. It was Northern's second win in 24 hours over a highly ranked Howard County team. Fourth-ranked River Hill lost here Wednesday night, too, 15-6, 15-7, 15-9.
Northern played like a team with five returning starters. Likewise, Centennial showed that adjusting to new setters and a different defense will take time.
"They played very well. They did a lot of good things," Centennial coach Mike Bossom said about Northern. "I don't want to take anything away from them, but we made too many errors. The good thing is that we can fix them."
Saying Northern's gym was hot would be kind. Stifling was closer to it. But the Eagles, too, were hot at the beginning, taking advantage of Northern's tentative start.
"We know they have a good program and a good team and, while I don't think we were intimidated, we weren't focused at the beginning," said Northern outside hitter Katie Radford, who was unstoppable most of the match. "We needed to pick up our intensity, and once we did that, we knew. We kept pushing them and playing all-out defense."
The Eagles led 8-2, but won only three more points on 12 service opportunities. The Patriots' defense improved, and Radford and setter Tera Blevins started combinations Centennial couldn't stop.
"To play defense, you have to play with intensity," said Northern coach Beth Incrocci. "We weren't doing that in the beginning. I told them to step it up, and they did."
Northern won 10 of the first game's last 11 points and continued the momentum into the second. The Patriots broke a 1-all tie with a run of 10 straight points. The Eagles did manage a four-point run to make the score closer.
The final game was much the same. The Eagles managed just one point in eight service opportunities. Northern took an 8-1 lead and increased it to 12-4 before Centennial ran four straight points to narrow the gap.
Inability to finish points hurt the Eagles, who made repeated good digs or passes, only to have another play mis-hit the ball.
"Our transition hurt us," said Bossom. "We had so many opportunities that we couldn't finish. And it's not that we don't have the hitters who can finish. It's that we didn't get the ball to them."
Said Centennial senior hitter Beth Stradling: "I don't think we played bad. We just need to work on a few things. We have some new players, and they have to get used to us, and we have to get used to them. But no one gave up tonight. We never put our heads down."
Centennial knows from experience that it can learn from a loss against a quality team like Northern. That's exactly what the Eagles plan to do.
"This team is very capable," said Bossom. "We made a lot of errors that are fixable. "The girls have a goal, and that's to win states."
Pub Date: 9/10/99