By Kevin O’Rourke
After a championship loss many teams might say, “We’ll get ‘em next year.” But very few can say it with the conviction of the Northwest volleyball team, which lost to in the 4A State Championship to a very experienced Severna Park High School team, 3-1, on Monday night at the Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland.
The Jaguars will return every member of the team which made this season’s historic run to the championship game. For a team of 11 juniors and two freshmen, it has been somewhat magical run to the final game. The Northwest volleyball program has never made it past the regional quarterfinals, but even back in mid-September Jags Head Coach Stephanie Blake knew she had something special in this team.
“All the girls have so much talent. It is so fun to work with them and see them do things they didn't think they could,” said Blake back in September. “We will continue to work hard and I can't wait to see where we can be by playoff time.” It turned out, that her talented team was good enough to challenge a team that has been volleyball power for some years.
The Severna Park Falcons were making their second straight appearance in the State finals. The Falcons were on the losing side last year and were determined not let another championship slip between their fingers.
Severna Park seniors, six-foot, Sophie Hoesktra and six-foot-four Mary Smith, combined for 30 kills in the four sets. The Falcons also got a tremendous game from junior Tara Register, who pitched in for 12 kills.
The Lady Jags found themselves playing from behind in the early sets as Severna Park would open up a 10-point leads and continue to find ways to get points. The Falcons would win the first game 25-14 and the second game 25-19.
The Jaguars backline turned in a very good match. Junior Jolee Childs had many defensive digs from the back row which kept Northwest from being blown out by the taller, more experienced Falcons. Offensively the Jags were paced by juniors Gabby Bennett with 12 kills, Biamba Tshitenge with nine kills, and Emma Liller with eight kills in the match.
The Lady Jags would win the tightly contested third set, 25-22, to hand Severna Park just their third dropped set all season, which saw the Jags 10-point shrink to just three as the Falcons forced Northwest to make errors.
Ultimately, the difference in the match was the Falcons ability to win contested balls at the net, they used their height, with six girls move than five-foot, 11-inches tall, win points near the net, with Mary Smith dominating the middle of the net with her height to block 11 Jaguar returns. The Lady Jags in comparison only had two girls taller than five-foot 11-inches.
As if the loss in the third set, and playing from behind for most of the set refocused the Falcons, the fourth set would see the Severna Park settle in and win 25-13 to complete the undefeated 20-0 season and win the championship. The Lady Jags would end the season 15-4, as runners up in the 4A State Championship, but with a bucket load of experience, which they will put to use when they get ‘em next year.
Top: Northwest freshman Janiece Jefferies (9) and junior Biamba Tshitenge (12) go up for a block during the Jag’s 4A State Championship match against Severna Park.
Next: Northwest junior Emma Liller (15) digs out a ball as Jolee Childs (7 in white) prepares for the next volley.
Next: Biamba Tshitenge (12) goes for the kill off a set up by Janiece Jefferies (9).
Next: Northwest junior Gabby Bennett (13) about to smash one of her 12 kills in the 4A State Championship match past Sophie Hoekstra (10) and Shannon Fletcher (12) of Severna Park High School on Monday.
Next: Junior Emma Liller (15) gets set for the kill as Falcons Morgan Kline (2) and Shannon Fletcher (12) attempt the block.
Photos by Germantown Pulse