Pictured above: Arundel (left) celebrates a key point in their 4A East Region final volleyball victory over South River

Wildcats defeat South River for a third time to claim the 4A East Region volleyball title

by Pat O’Malley

Top ranked Arundel accomplished one of the toughest things to do in sports and that is to defeat a very good opponent three times if such a situation can occur in a given sport.

It occurred Friday night in Gambrills as host Arundel made it a three-match season sweep of third ranked South River by 3-1 in the Class 4A East Region final to remain unbeaten at 19-0 and earn a return trip to the State semifinals next week at College Park.

Arundel 6-foot-1 junior Mackenzie Meehan led her team with 16 kills and 5 blocks. She is committed to Radford.

Junior middle blocker Mackenzie Meehan had 16 kills go with a match high 5 blocks as the Wildcats overcame a powerful performance by South River junior outside hitter Samantha Tarabella to win by scores of 26-24, 25-21, 22-25 and 25-23. The 6-foot Tarabella fired off a match high 22 kills, a match high 16 digs and was 9-for-11 serving in a losing cause for the Seahawks who finish 16-4 overall, three of those losses to the Wildcats.

Tri-captain/setter Alicia Eldredge, who is headed to Edinboro, once again ran the Wildcats on the floor for coach Ashley Yuscavage dishing out 42 assists running up and down the net and landed 4 kills and 3 aces as Arundel dealt the Seahawks losses in the regular season (3-2), the Anne Arundel County final (3-1) and the region final (3-1).

Senior Chyna Gubbings, another captain, and freshman standout, Brooke Watts contributed 11 and 10 kills each respectively for the victors.

“This was a huge win, our last home game and we’re going back to Maryland for another chance,” said Eldredge, a hungry senior. “We lost to Sherwood 15-13 (fifth set) in the state semis last year and we get a chance to see if we can win it this time. South River has a lot of heart and gave us a battle.”

Arundel senior Alicia Eldredge had a match-high 42 assists.

Arundel will play South Region winner Eleanor Roosevelt, a 3-0 winner over Northwestern, at 8 p.m. Thursday at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum while North champion Sherwood meets Northwest from the West region at 6 p.m. in a matchup of last year’s final won by Northwest, 3-0. Sherwood advanced by outlasting VSN’s No. 4 ranked Howard (16-4) by 3-2 in the North final.

The two winners from Thursday will play for the 4A State Crown at 3 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 18) at Ritchie.

“Winning this (region) gives us more confidence going into the state semifinals,” said the 6-foot-1 Meehan, who has committed early to Radford because the college has her major – Early Education – and has a successful volleyball program. Meehan wants to teach kindergarten children.

“We had a lot of determination to win this (match).”

In advancing to its fifth final four since 2010, the Wildcats took the first two sets from their arch-rival as the 6-1 Meehan got off 9 of her kills, five in the second set including the game-ender. Tarabella pounded 7 lazor kills in the first game but the Hawks lost by 2 points. After 7 ties in the second set with their fans, parents and students chanting throughout “Wildcat Nation,” Meehan closed it out to give the Cats a 2-0 start.

“We played really well the first two games, but South River doesn’t quit as they showed all three times we played them,” said Yuscavage, whose girls lost the Anne Arundel final to the Seahawks last season, only to come back and take the region from them.

The hitting of Tarabella and juniors Savannah Doctor (11 kills, 12 digs, 14-15 serving, one ace) and Erin Canter (10 kills and 4 blocks on the night), South River wasn’t about to give it up in the third set. The Seahawks pushed hard through 12 ties, the last at 18, to stay alive with a 25-22 victory. Canter ripped off the last two kills on assists from junior setter Emily Speciale (35 assists, 18-19 serving, 2 aces) to guarantee a fourth game.

Afterwards during the ensuing timeout, Tarabella laid on her back on the court with her arms extended displaying the exhaustion the two teams were experiencing. She got right back up and hit four more kills but she and her mates would fall short in game four by 25-23. The Hawks came out firing matching the Cats through every number through 7 except 2 until the latter started to pull away.

Arundel got up to an 8-point lead at 21-13 as senior libero Nia Smith, who will attend Coppin State, recorded a trio of aces to go with her 19 digs overall during the rally. It appeared that Arundel would run away with game four, but with Canter and Tarabella going on a scoring binge the Seahawks suddenly found themselves back in it at 21-22 on ace by Doctor.

Here comes Meehan again to push the Wildcat lead to 23-21 and after an exchange of errors made it 24-23 Arundel. Meehan closed it out for the second time with her 16th kill and fifth of the last set.

“We made bad errors at bad times and didn’t play clean,” said South River’s dean of Anne Arundel coaches Mo Carter. “And they got calls on line shots that didn’t help us any.”

Arundel will be seeking its very first state volleyball championship next week as will Eleanor Roosevelt which last made the state semis in 2012. The Wildcats were finalists in 2012 and 2011 and a 2010 semifinalist in a run of three straight appearances in the final four.