The Francis Scott Key volleyball team showed last night that it could hold its own against a state champion.
At least sometimes.
Facing defending Class 1A champion Smithsburg, the overmatched Eagles played well in spurts, but in the end succumbed to the power and experience of the visiting Washington County team in a 15-5, 15-8, 15-9 loss.
"I think we showed that we could play with them," Key coach Alice Rau said. "We showed that we could dig a ball, we showed that we could hit, we showed we could block, we showed we could serve and serve receive."
Led by hitters Jen Stambaugh (seven kills) and Erin Jenkins (five kills), and setter Terra Harman (19 assists), the Eagles (2-2 overall, 0-2 Monocacy Valley Athletic League) took a 4-1 lead to start the match, then later held a 9-8 advantage in the third game during a stretch in which they took 12 of 21 points.
In between, however, Smithsburg simply dominated.
Trailing early in the first game, the Leopards roared back to score 22 of the next 23 points to take command of the match. They also rarely gave Key help, putting 63 of their first 65 serves in play - an enviable statistic at any level of the sport.
Smithsburg (11-0, 6-0), led by Katie Powell (seven kills, three blocks) and Katie Franklin (14 assists), then had little trouble in the second game before finding a battle in the third game.
Led by the serving of Hilary Cook, Key jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then took a 9-8 lead on Harman's ace. The Leopards, however, used a timeout to regroup, then closed out the Eagles with seven straight points.
"There were a couple times when we got down in the hole, but then we bounced right back," said Smithsburg coach Alexa Robertson, adding that her team's game plan revolved around Stambaugh, Key's top hitter. "We knew we had to deal with her - that she was a strong hitter. We tried our best to block her and dig her hits. Then, when she was in the back row, we took advantage of that."
Stambaugh, a junior, is the only starter from last year's team returning to the same position. Harman exclusively played back row a year ago, and other starters either came up from the JV or are new to the program.
These Eagles are admittedly still a work in progress.
"All of them are really learning each other right now," Rau said.
"We haven't played together that much. I think a couple more practices and we'll be together as a team," Stambaugh said.