After spending years as Carroll County strangers, perennial volleyball powers Liberty and Francis Scott Key finally met last night in a regular-season match. For the eighth-ranked Lions, it was worth the wait.
Despite showing signs of rust from nine days without practice and dropping the opening game, the visiting Lions rallied from behind to win each of the next three in a 17-25, 25-19, 28-26, 27-25 victory.
"We knew that if we want to win the county, we had to beat Key," said Liberty coach Dave Trumbo, whose team had never played Key in the regular season during his eight years at the helm because of different conference affiliations. "South Carroll and Westminster are great teams, too, but Key is as strong as any of them. Tonight could have gone either way."
Though neither team served well - combining for 28 service errors - it was Key's inability to put the ball in place with a big lead in the third game that swung the match.
With the match tied at a game apiece, the Eagles (3-2) broke out to a 17-9 lead only to knock three straight serves into the net, helping Liberty (5-0) score 13 of the next 16 points to take the lead. From there, the teams tied five more times in the game before Lauren Locklear's tip at the net gave the Lions a 28-26 win, as well as control of the match.
"We really killed ourselves in the third game," said Eagles coach Alice Rau. "We should have beaten them that game. You miss three serves in a row in rally scoring, that's a six-point turnaround."
Liberty, the four-time defending county champion, then did it again in the fourth game, falling behind 11-8 and 16-14 before rallying to take a one-point lead on Kristin Steinnagel's winner. Once again, the Eagles misfired on three of four serves in the stretch.
Then, leading 25-24 with a chance to force a deciding Game 5, Key instead bowed out of the match on a missed serve and a pair of errors.
Outside hitter Meghan McConville, at 5 feet 10, led Liberty with 17 kills, and 6-foot junior Stacey Krebs added 13. The Lions needed every one of their points to negate the strong net play of 5-11 senior Jen Stambaugh and hard-hitting 5-9 sophomore Mandy Hill, who time and again came up with crucial kills and blocks for the Eagles.
Still, Liberty needed to take advantage of Key's 15 service errors to prevail. Trumbo was particularly concerned about his team's 13 service errors - uncharacteristic of his normally strong serving team.
"The only thing I can possibly think of is the layoff and the pressure," said Trumbo, whose team hadn't given up 20 points in a game until last night. "We hadn't played a pressure-filled game."
Before last night, the only time that Liberty and Francis Scott Key had a chance to meet was in the abbreviated match format of the county tournament, which the Eagles dominated in the late 1990s before being knocked out by Liberty each of the past two seasons.
"I wish we could play them twice a year," Trumbo said. "They're a great team."