Despite not having won a championship in four years, top-ranked Centennial carried an air of invincibility on the court yesterday during the Maryland 3A volleyball final in College Park. That sense of confidence was most evident when the Eagles' fans unfurled a banner declaring Centennial the state champions two points before the final game was won.

It probably took less than a minute before the fans eventually were able to hoist the banner in official celebration as Centennial swept No. 5 Seneca Valley, 25-16, 25-14, 25-21, to earn its 11th state title, which is tied for the state record. Williamsport won the 1A championship yesterday with a sweep of Liberty, also for its 11th state title.

In addition, Centennial Coach Michael Bossom moved into a three-way tie among coaches with the most state titles (seven).

"We knew what we were up against," said Seneca Valley Coach Sue McPherson, whose Screaming Eagles finished 18-1 and advanced to their first state final since 1991. "But we couldn't stack up."

Centennial served consistently, played tenacious defense and produced critical scoring runs when needed. Senior outside hitter Margot Phelan led the Eagles with match-high 12 kills, and senior Alana Eller added seven.

"It's such a tradition," Phelan said of the Eagles' dominance in volleyball, which includes eight titles between 1991 and 2000. "It's a reputation that you try to uphold. When you join the program, you're expected to rise to the level if you want to play. We have really dedicated players."

Tied at 6 in the first game, Centennial gradually began to pull away. The Eagles won seven consecutive points behind the serving of Eller to take a 17-8 lead that Seneca Valley would never overcome.

"We would be neck and neck, and then have little letdown, and Centennial took advantage of it," said Seneca Valley middle hitter Krista Eschelman, who had a team-high seven kills.

In the second game, Seneca Valley managed to take an 8-6 lead early before Centennial drew even at 10. Then the Eagles surged forward, winning five consecutive points on serve by junior Jennifer Feldmann. Centennial took its largest lead at 20-12 after a 6-0 run in which Phelan had two kills.

Seneca Valley managed to pull to make it 24-20 in the third game and staved off three match points by Centennial. But Phelan let loose on one of her patented kills, and the Eagles secured the championship.

Centennial's players celebrate their 25-16, 25-14, 25-21 over Seneca Valley. The Eagles' 11 state championships tie them with Williamsport for the most volleyball titles in Maryland history.