Category: Atholton Volleyball

Owls drop No. 9 Towson in 3A; Northern-Calvert ends No. 2 Raiders' title reign


Jilienne Widener came up huge for Westminster High Tuesday evening at the University of Maryland. The sophomore outside hitter match-high 19 kills and 7 digs, lifting the fifth-ranked Owls past No. 9 Towson in a Class 3A state volleyball semifinal.

by Pat O'Malley

It ended for Atholton Tuesday night at Ritchie Coliseum in College Park, but it may have just begun for Westminster.

Defending Class state 3A champion and No. 2 ranked Atholton went down in the state volleyball semis at the hands of Northern-Calvert County, 3-1 while No. 5 Westminster put away No. 9 Towson in three sets, 3-0 to advance to Saturday’s 3A final, 7.30 p.m. at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum

Northern (18-1 overall) will be seeking its 11th state championship and its first since 2015 while Westminster (17-1) will play in its first state final. The latter Owls made it to the state semis only one other time losing in 2014. This will be Northern’s 14th appearance in a state final.

Atholton (16-2), the Howard County champion, had a 12-match winning streak snapped by Northern and Towson (17-3), the Baltimore County champion, was the only returning state champion in the four (4A, 3A, 2A and 1A) enrollment classification tournaments.

The Raiders fell behind the perennial contending Patriots, 2-zip, but took the third set and appeared to have forced a fifth set with a 25-21 victory. However, the emotional high of the Raiders was suddenly taken away when the referee ruled a net violation that gave life to the Patriots and they ripped off four straight points to win by 26-24 ending the Raiders bid for an encore.

No. 5 WESTMINSTER 3, N0. 9 TOWSON 0 (25-22, 25-12, 25-15)

The upstart Owls squeaked by the Generals in the first set, but with 6-foot-1 sophomore phenom Julienne Widener leading the way with 19 kills and 7 digs and junior setter Emily Bartlett dishingout 28 assists the victors rolled the last two sets to sweep it. Bartlett has gone over 1,000 career assists.

"We got a wake-up call in that first set and we got stronger after that," said Widener, who is lanky, strong and quick. "We had never played in a game like this (big stage of state tournament) and everybody was there for each other."

Towson fell behind 23-14 in the first set but stormed back scoring 8 straight points to make it 23-22 Westminster. Senior outside hitter Sara Mandreja, who will play for Adelphi Univerrsity in 2018, led the Generals with 10 kills, four coming in the rally, but seniors, Lindsey Campbell and defensive specialist Hannah Jones closed it out for the Owls.

The Generals, who were making their Baltimore County-leading 16th berth in the state tournament, appeared to be outplayed by the quickness and athleticism of the Owls. Westminster broke away in the second set from an 8-6 lead that zoomed to 20-8 and they coasted to a 13-point victory with Widener firing in the 25th point. It was her 7th straight kill in the set.

"She’s an incredible player and we knew she would be," said Towson’s 10th year coach Emily Berman, who played for coach Jayne Lacey on the General’s first state title in 2001 then coached alma mater to another championship in 2010.

"But overall I thought we played poorly and beat ourselves. At times we looked scared. We didn’t look prepare even though we were prepared."

The play of Widener, who can deliver cross-court hits and place her taps in holes, and her mates was impressive and certainly can bring out the worse in an opponent. Again in the third set, Widener, who has over 500 career kills with two more seasons left, delivered the match-ending kill emphatically for a 25-15 romp.

"Our players are focused on their jobs," said Westminster’s fifth-year coach Ed Benish. "We knew coming into this season that we had a special group and now they get a chance to win the school’s first state championship."

NORTHERN-CALVERT 3, No. 2 ATHOLTON 1 (25-18, 26-24, 24-26, 26-24)

Atholton didn’t give up its state crown without a battle against a school with the thirdmost state titles at 10 behind only Centennial and Williamsport with 14 each and Smithsburg 12.

Northern showed why its’ program has been so successful and Atholton its coach Rob Moy, who finished his fifth season with the Raiders showed a lot of class in dealing with the heartbreak of an apparent match-tying victory only to be stripped of the joy.

After ties at 15, 19, 20 and 21 in the fourth set, the Raiders took a 22-21 on the last of junior Lisa Zoch’s team-high 18 kills and pushed the lead to 24-21. Then it happened as the Raiders experienced the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of seconds.

Kelly Simons, one of three Atholton seniors, will graduate with one state title and back-to-back appearances in the 3A final four.

Junior middle hitter Wande Sogbesan, who had 5 kills along with sophomore Chanelle Smith, pounded point 25 setting off a celebration by the Raiders and thoughts of a fifth set for 15 points. The 25th point was taken away because Sogbesan touched the net on her follow-through to makeit a 24-22 game and the Patriots responded with four straight points to take it and end the Atholton season.

Senior outside hitter Amanda Chew, 5-10 and the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference leader in kills and hitting percentage, pounded her last two kills of her match-high 26 during the match-clinching rally. Chew also had 22 digs to lead the assault on the Raiders.

"Congratulations to Atholton," said Northern coach Bobby Gibbons who is now 71-16 in five seasons with one state championship (2015). "They have a helluva team, never gave up. I thought they were the biggest and toughest team we faced all year."

Junior outside hitter Lisa Zoch led the Raiders with 18 kills. The 6-foot-1 Zoch also had 15 digs Hannah Jones (17) and Sabrina Lagommarsino had 32 assists between them.

"I’m extremely proud of my Raiders," said coach Moy. "I consider our season a success, but I’m disappointed my seniors (only three in Brooke Mason, Kelly Simons and Nikita Rajarajan) didn’t get to repeat. All of our players worked really hard. They kept fighting, but lost to a really good team."

The second set proved to be really crucial in the result. With 11 ties, the second game was winnable, but the Raiders couldn’t get it done. Atholton got a kill from Zoch to break a 23-tie, but Chew answered to tie it at 24 for the final time. Elisabeth Elbrecht notched a kill for a 25-24 Northern lead and a hitting error by the Raiders ended it at 26-24.

"We won the county (Howard) and regional (3A East) and did a lot of things well," said Moy.