Allison Miller, Huntingtown's fearsome senior outside hitter, remembers the letter well. She was in the seventh grade and after seven years of competitive dancing, she had turned her attention to volleyball and tried out for the Southern Maryland Juniors under-14 team.
She was cut by Coach Cheryl Lord, who delivered the news in a handwritten note. Miller was devastated. She didn't sulk, however -- instead, she soaked up every word. And, yes, she came back.
Now, Miller is one of the keys to the Hurricanes' run to the Maryland 3A state semifinals, where they played Seneca Valley last night [for full coverage, see today's Sports section or go to washingtonpost.com].
This, in the school's first season.
"Mrs. Lord has taught me everything I know about volleyball," said Miller, who transferred from perennial state power Calvert to rejoin Lord at Huntingtown. "She puts her whole heart into coaching."
It hasn't exactly been a clear path for Miller to get to this point. She even has trouble grasping how she went from player who once begged her middle school coach for a team manager position to moving to the brink of a state title.
But it probably goes back to the letter from Lord. Adding to the blow was the fact that Miller's younger sister, Andrea, made the under-12 team she was trying out for at the same time. Allison watched every one of Andrea's games that year. The two played "Pepper" during down time. Miller came back the next year and made the team. By her sophomore year at Calvert, Miller was on varsity.
"I think that's why people coach," said Lord. "Why else? It's very gratifying to see these players start out and see where they end up, and to see how they reap the rewards of their hard work."
As a senior, Miller had the choice to stay at Calvert, last year's 3A champion, or transfer to Huntingtown. It was a tough choice. But the lure of playing alongside her sister, a sophomore, and reuniting with Lord -- who had coached her as a freshman at Calvert -- proved too tempting.
Miller had no real expectations for Huntingtown (15-2). But she found a group that carries itself with just the right mix of humility and unflappability. They were all new to each other -- only three of them had varsity experience -- and playing for a new school. Their gym wasn't even ready during the first week of the season. They had to borrow equipment from the middle school for nearly a month.
Yet, somehow, the Hurricanes kept chugging along, strengthening as the season progressed. It all culminated in a stirring five-game victory over Severna Park in the 3A South final last week.
"This team always seems to amaze me," Lord said. "It just seems whatever problems come their way, they're able to get past things."