When a high school volleyball team makes it to the state championship game without having a single senior, as the Northwest team did last year, they are the surprise, Cinderella team, and even in defeat they are lauded. However, one year later with nine seniors everybody knows who the Lady Jags are, and everybody wants to steal their glass slippers.
So far this season, the Lady Jags have managed to keep last year’s magic going winning their first five games. They appear ready for another deep run into the postseason and Coach Stephanie Blake expects nothing less.
“Each year I have extremely high expectations of my players regardless if they were on varsity the year before,” said Blake, “if they are a freshman or a senior, knowing the talent each of these individuals have set the bar even higher. I don’t accept mediocrity, and they all know that.”
Last year, Blake’s team almost pulled off the upset of by the taller, more experienced Severna Park team in the State Championship game and Blake expects this team to improve on last year’s season finale.
“This team knows what they are capable of and what to expect at that high level of state championship play,” said Blake. “They know what to expect and what needs to be done to get there. They know what we lacked last year and are working hard on fixing that this year. They know what needs to be done to get to the state championship this year, and have a different outcome. I am very proud that they all come into practice every day ready to accomplish a new goal. ”
The team returns nine seniors, including seniors Emma Liller and Gabby Bennett. “I expect a great year from them, they are captains and seniors, and I expect them to lead the girls in the right direction on and off the court. They were standouts last year, and I expect them to step up even more this year,” said Blake. Also returning are seniors, Chaya Riggs, Erica Orem, Kelly Salomon, Samantha Mathew, Jolee Childs, Biamba Tshitenge, and Becca Grundy.
“I have a roster full of 14 very talented girls,” said Blake, “you would think I would know my perfect line-up since most of them are returning, but I don’t. I have a roster of nine seniors, but also have two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior who have thus far been starting in our scrimmages and games.”
The two freshmen who were on the team last year and made the run to the state finals also return as seasoned sophomores, Daha Kurochkina and Janice Jefferies.
The lone junior on the team is transfer, Leilani Mayer, who Blake expects to be a big contributor this year. “We have two freshmen playing on varsity who I expect to contribute a lot to this season,” said Blake referring to Jenaisya Moore and Rachael Bennett, who is the younger sister of senior Gabby Bennett.
“Anyone of them has the opportunity to have a breakout season it’s a matter of who will be the hardest workers day in and day out,” said Blake. “Only time will tell.”
With wins over Walter Johnson, Oakdale, Damascus, Seneca Valley, and Kennedy, the Lady Jags have dispatched five opponents without losing a game. They will travel to Gaithersburg on Thursday night to battle the Lady Trojans who have won three of the first four games.
Top: Northwest senior Biamba Tshitenge (17) lifts the ball back over the net against the Damascus Hornets during their game last week.
Next: Sophomore Janiece Jefferies (9) sets the ball her teammates Biamba Tshitenge (17) and Leilani Mayer (12).
Next: Senior Emma Liller (15) goes in for the kill shot against Damascus.
Next: Junior Leilani Mayer (12) with the spike during Northwest’s 3-0 victory over Damascus.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.