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“I go and watch all the parks and rec camps and the gold-medal camps, just to see what’s out there,” Zeiler said. “And I texted Kim af­ter the sec­ond day of the parks and rec camp, and I said, ‘These are our girls. This is our team.’

“Just their spirit is amaz­ing,” Zeiler con­tin­ued. “If you get to know these kids, they’re just an amaz­ing group of kids. But their spirit, their work ethic, their will­ing­ness to learn, the way they sup­port each other. It was just awe­some to see. And in two days I just picked up on it right away.”

But as promis­ing as this young core looked, it still needed to de­velop.

The Lions had solid records from 2013 through 2015, and con­tin­ued to be com­pet­i­tive and fin­ish near the top of the divi­sion. But they — and none of the North’s other four teams — couldn’t top­ple North Car­o­line, which had won 10 con­sec­u­tive divi­sion ti­tles and eight con­fer­ence crowns from 2006 to 2016. In ad­di­tion, Queen Anne’s went a col­lec­tive 0-5 against Car­o­line and Kent Is­land in 2015, none of the matches reach­ing a fifth set.

Still, Zeiler main­tained her be­lief.

“I’m a very pa­tient per­son, kind of watch­ing things un­fold,” Zeiler said. “I just think, Kim’s an amaz­ing coach, we’re a good coach­ing duo to­gether, and we sup­port the kids. And even if we hit a lit­tle down patch, we never con­vey that. We might push them a lit­tle harder or say some­thing. But I watched them steadily grow. And I also know when they’re fresh­men and sopho­mores they’re just learn­ing the game. They don’t have much to go from. And just watch­ing them make baby steps.”

Those steps be­came gi­ant ones this sea­son.

Queen Anne’s lost only two games in its first nine matches. Of its 16 vic­to­ries, 12 were sweeps, in­clud­ing a pair over North Car­o­line. Only twice were the Lions taken to a fifth game, both com­ing against Kent Is­land, in­clud­ing an epic 25-19, 21-25, 25-21, 22-25, 1513 vic­tory over the Bucs in the Class 2A East Sec­tion II cham­pi­onship match.

“They didn’t shake very eas­ily,” said Betts, whose team’s sea­son ended in the 2A East Re­gion fi­nal against even­tual state cham­pion Ris­ing Sun. “They just took it one point at a time. A lot of peo­ple said, ‘Wow, they re­ally act like a team. They re­ally work to­gether as a team.’ These girls are friends on the court, off the court and that in it­self made a huge dif­fer­ence. We had no drama. It was all busi­ness.

“Be­fore we had key play­ers, but we didn’t have the sur­round­ing cast,” Betts said. “This group we had many ath­letes and we were able to make ad­just­ments and put girls in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, whereas be­fore I’d say some of the girls were re­ally locked into one po­si­tion and weren’t as ver­sa­tile. So if some­body was hav­ing an off-game we could re­ally make some spurof-the-mo­ment changes and make it work.”

One Lion who never seemed to have an off-game was Blann, who with Kent Is­land se­nior Han­nah Mo­ran, shared Player-of-the-Year honors.

“I think she kept her com­po­sure,” Betts said of Blann. “She worked re­ally hard at prac­tice with all of the hit­ters. She took a lot of their feed­back, and like I said, worked well with them to make ad­just­ments to get things just right; make sure she was con­nect­ing with each hit­ter.”

In a sea­son full of big steps, sweeps, spikes and all-around stel­lar player, that com­mu­ni­ca­tion may have gone un­no­ticed by some, but Betts wasn’t part of that crowd.

“When she was a fresh­man, she never said a word,” Betts said of Blann. “She was very timid. And I think that was as big im­prove­ment in her game as well. She re­ally stepped up to be a leader.

“She was very vo­cal and she ap­peared in ev­ery match,” Betts con­tin­ued. “You take her out, it would have im­pacted us sig­nif­i­cantly had she not been on the court. If you take one piece out, she would have been the sig­nif­i­cant piece that we didn’t want to lose. The key piece.”

Blann fin­ished with 333 as­sists — eas­ily the high­est sin­gle-sea­son mark dur­ing Betts’s run as head coach. Added to that were 73 digs, 41 kills, 18 blocks and 40 aces.

“Her serves were amaz­ing this year,” Betts said. “She put us back on top in a cou­ple of matches when we were be­hind from when she was at the ser­vice line. She could block as well. So she was able to help our of­fense and our de­fense.”

Mo­ran did the same thing at Kent Is­land, lead­ing the Buc­ca­neers to a 12-5 sea­son, which ended with the marathon loss in the 2A East Sec­tion II fi­nal.

“She’s a true com­peti­tor,” Kent Is­land head coach Pa­trick Hop­kins said of Mo­ran. “She’s a true leader. She’s a young lady who, when she’s on the court, she makes other peo­ple bet­ter. That’s say­ing some­thing when you have a player that’s not only good, but when you make the other peo­ple around you bet­ter, that’s a true ath­lete.”

The Bucs were 6-4 be­fore Mo­ran helped fuel a six-game win streak that in­cluded a vic­tory over North Car­o­line in the sec­tional semi­fi­nals be­fore los­ing to Queen Anne’s. Mo­ran led Kent Is­land with 98 kills, 70 aces and 64 blocks.

“She brings a cer­tain in­ten­sity to the game, which is hard to match,” Hop­kins said. “Even in prac­tice. She prac­tices like she plays. She’s al­ways in that con­stant, com­pet­i­tive mode. She’s like one of the best kids I’ve ever coached (since 2007). She just brings some­thing tremen­dous to the game.”

Here’s a look at the rest of the first team:

Emma Feaga, Sr., Queen Anne’s

The out­side hit­ter ranked sec­ond in kills (112) and digs (119) for the Lions. Fin­ished year with a .404 hit­ting per­cent­age and recorded 45 aces. Haily Sears, Sr., North Car­o­line An out­side hit­ter, Sears fin­ished with a .240 hit­ting per­cent­age, and to­taled 89 kills and 41 digs for the 12-3 Bull­dogs. Al­lie Har­ris, Jr., Queen Anne’s A mid­dle blocker, Har­ris net­ted a team-high 114 kills to go with a .452 hit­ting per­cent­age. She also had 48 blocks and 23 digs. Kai­ley Boomer, Sr., Queen Anne’s The out­side hit­ter net­ted a team-high 120 digs and fin­ished with 92 kills, a .400 hit­ting per­cent­age, and 20 aces.

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