It takes a lot for county volleyball to achieve something never before seen in its history.
Yet that’s exactly what Smithsburg, Williamsport and North Hagerstown combined to achieve in 2012.
For the first time, Washington County teams won three state championships in a single season. The Leopards won their fourth straight Class 1A title and ninth overall on Friday evening, two hours before the Hubs successfully defended their Class 3A championship. Then on Monday night, the Wildcats completed the trifecta by winning the Class 2A final for their 13th state title and first since 2005.
“After last year’s disappointment (losing to Middletown in the 2A West quarterfinals), we couldn’t let the county down,” Williamsport coach Emily Crabtree said Monday night. “Smithsburg and North put the pressure on us. (Three titles) just says volumes about volleyball in Washington County.”
“Three (champions) in the county is pretty remarkable,” said Hubs coach Megan Crawford, a 2000 Williamsport grad who watched the Wildcats’ victory Monday.
Washington County won the state title in every class it had teams competing in this season — and if you combine the titles won by Smithsburg and North last year, the county has won five of the last six championships.
As one Baltimore-Washington metro-area writer commented during the state tournament, “It looks like the balance of power in volleyball has shifted to Washington County.”
The county has long dominated Class 1A, winning 22 of the last 32 championships in the state’s smallest class — Williamsport has 10 1A titles, Smithsburg nine, Clear Spring two and Boonsboro one. The Wildcats won four straight 1A titles from 2002 to 2005, a streak the Leopards have now matched and appear very capable of exceeding.
“These kids saw this when they were eighth-graders and seventh-graders,” said Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear on Friday night. “They want to be a part of this and have seen that it can be done.”
Thomas S. Wootten holds the state record with seven straight titles in Class 4A from 1983 to 1989.
The Hubs’ two consecutive Class 3A championships — especially Friday night’s victory over a storied Centennial program that has won a state-record 14 titles — have opened many eyes.
“It means a lot, having that respect for our program,” Crawford said.
Williamsport’s sweep of Calvert in Monday’s Class 2A final made one last impression on the observers at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum.
When asked about the success of county volleyball, two reasons are always mentioned:
n The established club volleyball and middle school programs within the county.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve had many clubs in the county through the years where the girls keep playing year-round,” said Crawford. “We tell the girls you’re not going to get better during the season, you get better in the offseason.”
“Middle school (volleyball) has definitely been a blessing,” Crabtree said. “Springfield and Smithsburg have great programs, and when (players) get the fundamental base before they get here, then you can teach strategy instead of having to work on the basics.”
n The competition level within the county. When the county’s best teams go head-to-head, the result is often memorable — such as North’s five-set victory over Williamsport on the way to the MVAL Antietam title this season.
“All of us play very good competition in the county, and it helps make us better,” Crawford said.
And while those battles between two county teams can be intense affairs, when it came to state tournament time this year, rivals became supporters. That was in evidence when Smithsburg’s fans and players gave North’s team a warm welcome when the Hubs arrived at Ritchie Coliseum on Friday before the Leopards’ title match.
“The volleyball community is close-knit. Everybody knows everybody. Players at different high schools play club ball together,” Crabtree said. “Those relationships turn into friendships, and there’s that healthy competition.”
That goes for the coaches. Crabtree’s five championships ranks second in county history behind Cindy Neugebauer, who won six titles at Williamsport and coached Crabtree, who played on the 1981 Class 2A title team. Brashear’s four titles put her third on the county list, while Crawford’s two titles tie Clear Spring’s Lisa Shives, Smithsburg’s Cindy Young and Williamsport’s Kristi Gee for fifth.
Brashear won a state title playing for the Leopards in 1998, and Crawford was part of the Wildcats’ 1999 title team under Gee.
“I respect both (Brashear and Crabtree). They’ve been around the game for a long time,” Crawford said. “I played with Rachel and coached with Emily in some camps. We have the rivalries, but there is that camaraderie.”