Hardship and Hard Work Bind a Tight Knit Northwest Volleyball Team as It Claims State Championship
“This team is like a family to me,” said Northwest senior Chaya Riggs, as she addressed reporters after Monday night’s straight set victory over volleyball powerhouse Dulaney High School at Ritchie Coliseum in College Park, to bring home Northwest’s first ever Maryland State Volleyball Championship.
The Lady Jags defeated Dulaney in straight sets 25-19, 25-21, and 25-20 win the championship.
Riggs knows better than most how important the bond between teammates can be. Less than one month ago, as her team was preparing for its playoff run, two 13-year-old boys set fire to her house in Germantown. On the evening of October 28, Riggs and her team were at the school practicing, heard the sirens, and saw the smoke from the blaze.
The smoke was coming from the neighborhood near Riggs’s house. So the team began to head toward the fire to investigate. Firefighters were already battling the fire when Riggs and her teammates discovered that it was her house that was burning.
Riggs and her teammates stood in the pouring rain and watched as firefighters smashed windows and pulled apart walls in an effort to fight the blaze at her house.
“These girls are my best friends and have been for a couple years now,” said Riggs. “They were there with me the whole night. They were amazing.” She said that teammates Gabby Bennett, Becca Grundy and Kelly Solomon, gave her clothes to wear since all of her family’s belongings were lost in the fire. “They gave me so much clothes and everyone was so thoughtful and understanding and so helpful,” said Riggs.
“I am so glad to be surrounded by this group of girls, and, of course, Coach,” said Riggs as she beamed at the Lady Jags’ Head Coach Stephanie Blake. “She has been the best, especially through that tough time.”
A week later, the two boys were arrested and charged with setting the fire. Her world was turned on its head in a few hours. With her home gone, Chaya Riggs knew she could depend on her teammates. Having the volleyball team and practice, and a common goal to win the championship gave Riggs an environment where things were somewhat normal.
“It was really hard at first, trying to deal with that. They just made it really easy for me. Volleyball pumps me up. We have the best time. We are so pumped up when we play volleyball. We were all just having fun.”
Riggs was having fun last night and playing great volleyball when her team needed her. Riggs is a serving specialist and came through in the championship match with seven service aces for points. She had four straight aces in the second game and three in the final game.
It was the service aces that were the difference in the match. The Lady Jags would finish the match with 16 unreturned serves while the Dulaney Lions could only muster five aces.
“They were the better team today,” said Dulaney Head Coach Cary Lyon. “We missed four or five times as many serves as they did and the difference is almost exactly what the score was. Give them credit, they were hustling and getting balls.”
Blake said it was the relationships her team has with one another that helped make this year’s run to the finals different from last year. She said that this was a team made up of best friends. “On the court and off the court.”
The seniors began bonding last season, as they were the leaders of a senior-less team that advanced all the way to the state final, but were turned away by last year’s champs Severna Park. Players like Riggs, Gabby Bennett, Emma Liler, Becca Grundy (who was injured for the post-season), Biamba Tshitenge, Jolee Childs, Samantha Matthew, and Erica Orem set the tone at practice that this was going to be the year for a championship.
“Last year at this time, we were just happy to be here even though we lost because it was our first year ever,” said senior Gabby Bennett, “but this year we wanted to win. We wanted to come out and make history for our school.” Bennett led the team in kills in the final match with 11. On the defensive side, Bennett tied sophomore Janiece Jefferies with seven digs in the final match.