FREDERICK - The Liberty's 21-match regular-season winning streak in volleyball ended last night, but the Lions certainly went down scratching and clawing.
Erin Maldo and Thomas Johnson had just a little too much power for Liberty, and they outlasted the visiting Lions to score a 15-4, 5-15, 15-11, 6-15, 15-13 victory in a two-hour match that went right down to the final point.
Liberty (4-1) hadn't lost in the regular season since Oct. 12, 2000 - also to Thomas Johnson. At the end, the Lions were celebrating on the court as if they had won, and coach Dave Trumbo was more than a little pleased with his inexperienced team that grew a lot on this night.
"They showed a lot of heart and they never gave up," Trumbo said. "The streak doesn't mean a thing. Hey, we played on TJ's court and we went to 15-13 in the fifth game."
Thomas Johnson coach Jim Dorsch also brushed off this match being any different because the Patriots ended the Lions' two-year winning streak.
"We always have these close matches with them," Dorsch said. "It's just a typical Liberty-Thomas Johnson match."
Thomas Johnson (2-2) gained the final edge with power and play at the net. Proving nearly unstoppable at times, Maldo, a junior, finished with 20 kills.
Liberty is much younger and inexperienced than last season, when the Lions qualified for the state semifinals. Trumbo said before last night's match that the Patriots' experience could be tough for his team to overcome.
The coach was right. The Patriots blew the Lions away in the first game, using the power of Maldo and others at the net to score the easy 15-4 victory. Liberty jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in the second game on the strong serving of Allie Hammond and cruised to the 15-5 victory.
But Maldo and friends dominated the net again in the third game, holding off a late Liberty rally for the 15-11 triumph. The Lions went back to what worked so well earlier: good passing from Laura Shand and others and well-placed shots from Stacey Krebs (nine kills), Emily McConville (nine kills, five blocks) and Meg McConville (eight kills, three blocks). That combination helped force a fifth game.
Krebs and the McConvilles helped to stymie some of the Thomas Johnson's potent play with clever shots and dinks at the net. The knuckleball serves of Erin McManus befuddled the Patriots repeatedly and kept the Lions alive.
But Thomas Johnson jumped to a 9-5 lead in the decisive game, and finally held off a Lions rally after they got to within 14-13.