When Fran DuVall became coach of Poolesville's fledgling volleyball program six years ago, the task seemed too daunting -- a new program at a small school would have to grow while playing all its regular-season games against bigger schools.
Last week's first appearance in the state tournament capped a remarkable stretch of postseason success for Poolesville girls' athletics, DuVall has learned that simply being Poolesville has made her team what it is.
"I really didn't want to have to play the bigger schools all the time," DuVall said. "Now as the program has progressed, I understand that it has absolutely made us stronger when we got to the playoffs."
During the past two weeks, Montgomery County's smallest school captured the county spotlight, advancing to the state final in girls' soccer, volleyball and field hockey -- three of the four possible team state championships in girls' sports. The Falcons are already two-time defending state indoor track champs.
The field hockey team tied Rising Sun on Nov. 9 to come away with a share of the 1A championship. The soccer team scored in the waning moments of overtime to clinch its first state 1A soccer title Saturday with a 1-0 win over Smithsburg. The volleyball team upset two-time defending champion Smithsburg in the 1A Southregion final and advanced to the state final before losing to Williamsport.
"These two weeks have been a real exciting time here, we've been all over the state." Athletic Director Mike Riley said. "Athletics is a big thing here. The kids take it seriously. Our coaches preach that academics is the most important thing, but athletics is certainly part of it."
Of the roughly 750 students at Poolesville, more than 300 (roughly 45 percent) participate in interscholastic athletics, and among those seem to be an extraordinary crop of excellent girls' athletes.
The soccer team has only one senior -- Christina Mann, who will play soccer on scholarship for North Carolina State next year -- and 13 juniors, several of whom could be eventual college athletes. The volleyball team has three seniors but also four sophomores who played key roles.
"There are a lot of good athletes, especially in the sophomore and junior class," said girls' soccer Coach Scott Mathias, who was also the All-Met Girls' Indoor Track Coach of the Year for 2001-2002. "They've been successful, but they're also very, very dedicated. They don't take talent for granted, and that's really the key."
DuVall said: "I think there's a distance thing. A lot of the soccer players have to go all the way to Bethesda for club ball. I had some players on field hockey who had to go to D.C. for club. If you want to play at a high level, you have to make a commitment."
The success has also shown that the small-town environment in rural Poolesville -- the school is next to a water tower amid the rolling countryside of Western Montgomery -- has proven to be nurturing rather than suffocating for its athletic programs.
The kids have known each other for a long time, and, according to the coaches, familiarity has helped on the field. Also, the Poolesville community has embraced its athletic teams, and parental and administrative support is high, as the attendance at the state tournament showed.
"I'm still blown away by the support we get for girls' sports," DuVall said. "The coaches help each other out. Saturday at the state finals, I kept looking around and saw all the coaches and administrators. That is the benefit of a small school, the support everyone gives and notices."
And despite the small size, Poolesville is able to do just fine in county competition. The indoor track team finished second in the county. The volleyball team was the only team to take a game during the regular season against 4A state semifinalist Gaithersburg, which spent much of the year ranked No. 1 in the Post. Both the field hockey and soccer teams finished the year with only one loss. The boys and girls basketball teams won their respective 3A/2A/1A division championships last season.
"We have so much young talent," Mann said. "And this year it came together."