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With 14 state titles, Centennial volleyball is one of the top programs in any sport in the area

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The Centennial volleyball program has been a model of excellence and consistency under head coach Larry Schofield, who describes the program as "a constant striving for excellence."

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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

For as long as volleyball has been a part of her life, Liz Brown wanted to be here, on this court in Ellicott City, the Eagle mural on the wall and banners draped above the entrances. She pined to be one of the select few who get the chance to play in an orchestrated whirl of red, white and blue.

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Unlike her friends, who helped lead Brown to the sport by bringing her to matches when she was in sixth grade, she didn't have an older sister on the Centennial volleyball team. But that didn't dampen its allure. Brown was mesmerized by the fast-paced games as a middle schooler, the frantic atmosphere, the raucous crowd and, of course, the victories.

"I went to two of their state championships," recalled Brown, a junior playing her third season on the varsity. "All I could think about was how much I wanted to be out there, too, to experience it for myself. I couldn't wait to do this."

Over the past 20 years, Centennial has established itself as one of the premier volleyball programs in Maryland. The Eagles have never lost in the state finals, capturing a record 14 titles since 1989. They've also amassed 15 regional championships, 13 Howard County championships and a 379-31 record during that span.

Winning has bred a culture all its own. Most of the girls in Centennial's program -- regardless of whether they're on varsity, junior varsity or the freshman team -- play club volleyball when the high school season ends. The extra commitment isn't required, but they know it's the best way to improve. And improvement allows them to build upon the expectations that come with being part of the Eagles' lineage.

"With a lot of sports it's okay if you're just all right, but Centennial volleyball has a name and an expectation attached to it," Brown said. "Everybody respects it. I think it makes us all push to be a little bit better because we know who we're playing for. I like it. I like the pressure, you know you have to live up to something great."

* * *

Players suspected it would be an intense day of practice when they walked into the gym one Tuesday last month. Three days earlier, Centennial had fallen in a best-of-three match at the prestigious Bulldog Invitational in Ridgely, Md., to Baltimore County private school Mount de Sales. It was the Eagles' first loss since 2007.

More worrisome than defeat, though, was the Eagles' inability to stay focused on defense.

For more than a half-hour, Coach Larry Schofield stood atop a wooden box on one side of the net, pounding rapid-fire, sharp-angled shots -- known as "kills" -- down toward members of the team. Their lone task: to dig each ball he launched at them and make sure they resulted in playable passes.

These drills came after Schofield screened the motivational film "Even Eagles Need a Push" for the team, reminding them that their namesake will push chicks out of the nest to teach them to fly. The defensive clinic was a push, not punishment.

"What's tough is you have to help foster that Centennial attitude, that pride," said Schofield, an algebra and geometry teacher at the school. "They have to want this for themselves, they have to set goals and decide what is or isn't acceptable of a Centennial team."


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