By Kevin O’Rourke
The Northwest volleyball team will be the only up-county team left standing at any division level as they begin their run toward a state championship on Wednesday night.
The Lady Jaguars posted a regular season record of 11-3, with loses to Poolesville, Damascus, and Gaithersburg, all of whom have been vanquished in their respective regional finals. Gaithersburg was defeated by the seniorless Northwest team.
Northwest went into the regional tournament seeded second and defeated the number three seeded Wootton Patriots in back to back wins. The Jags ended their season with a 3-0 victory over the Patriots and swept them in the first round of the 4A West Regionals earning the ability to avenge an earlier season loss to Gaithersburg in the second round.
In September, Gaithersburg handed Northwest their first 0-3 loss and it stung the young Lady Jags. “We have made mistakes during the regular season, we learned from them, and fixed certain areas that needed fixing. We know what it is like to lose, and we know what it is like to play our best against a good team,” said Head Coach Stephanie Blake. “The girls knew what to expect going in to the game with Gaithersburg, they knew what we needed to do to win, and what Gaithersburg would be giving to us.”
“I am so proud of my team and where they have come from at the beginning of the season to now,” said Blake. “It would have been so easy for them to quit when we were faced with tough competition that had beat us earlier in the season. Instead of quitting and saying well this just must not be our year, we’ll try again next year – they fought at every practice and every game to be the best they can be. We have not gotten here by luck, we have gotten here by dedication and hard work, we have faced tough teams in the playoffs.”
The Lady Jags bested the top seed Trojans 3-1 to earn the right to face the other number one seed in the 4A West bracket, the Churchill Bulldogs on Friday Night, a night which ended with the Jags advancing to the 4A State tournament with another 3-1 victory.
“Every player has stepped up in different ways,” said Blake of her young team. “We would not be where we are now being able to play as well at the net without the step up and leadership of my back row players. They have really focused and worked really hard to get where they are now.”
On Wednesday, the Jaguars will travel to the Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland to face a very tough Bowie High School team which posted a 15-1 record this year. Bowie has lost just eight match games all season and was a top seed coming out of the 4A South Region.
But Coach Blake doesn’t think her young team will be overwhelmed by the big stage and bigger stakes. “It will be tough, Bowie is a very good team, they have worked hard to get to the same point we are at,” said Blake. “Gaithersburg and Churchill are very good teams too, who have lost less than eight games in match play this season. We have had tough competition to this point which has only made us better. We will need to rise to the occasion once again and just focus on what we know how to do. We will continue working hard every day at practice so we can keep the season going.”
Top: Northwest netters juniors Darya Kurochkina (14), Gabby Bennett (13) and Becca Grundy (11) celebrate a point in their first meeting with Gaithersburg in September.
Next: The Lady Jags will need good serves from junior Kelly Salomon (4) as they face Bowie in the State Tournament on Wednesday night.
Next: Northwest's Gabby Bennett (13) sets up fellow junior Jolee Childs (18) during a game earlier in the Lady Jags season.
Photos by Germantown Pulse