Pictured above: Northwest junior phenom Jenaisya Moore, the Mongtomery Coaches and Maryland State Gatorade Player of the Year, brings down the curtain on the Class 4A State championship match with her 33rd kill to give Northwest its third consecutive State title by 3-1 over Arundel.

Wildcats win first set but falls to Montgomery County powerhouse in 4A state volleyball final

by Pat O’Malley

There is no doubt who best volleyball team is in Maryland and there is no doubt who the best player is. You only had to be at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum Saturday afternoon to be convinced.

Junior outside hitter Jenaisya Moore and her Northwest High Jaguar teammates from Montgomery County put on a show to reel off their third consecutive Class 4A state championship by 3-1 over the Baltimore area’s top ranked Arundel. Both teams went into the match undefeated and Northwest (19-0 overall) prevailed behind the incredible hitting display put on by Moore, who had a match-high 33 kills (four short of the state tournament record), to run their three-year record to 58-1.

After VSN’s No. 1 Arundel (19-1) stunned the Jaguars, 26-24, in the first set, only the third time this season that Northwest has lost a game, the state champs went on to post victories by 25-19, 25-16 and 25-11. The three consecutive state championships ties Sherwood (2010-12) for second in Montgomery County history with the two teams behind Thomas S. Wootton that won seven in a row from 1983-89 under coach Mike Lipman.

The only loss Northwest has suffered in their impressive run was to Sherwood in regular season last year and the Jaguars avenged the loss in the 2016 state final and knocked them off again in this year’s state semis by 3-zip.

“Arundel definitely gave us our toughest state championship match (won the first two by 3-0),” said Northwest 9th year coach Stephanie Blake. “It was very challenging to win three in a row. The first one felt really good and each has felt even better since because everyone wants to take us out.”

Arundel set out to deal Northwest their second loss in three years and judging from their impressive performance in the first set Saturday looked like they were going to give the Jags a run for it. Junior Mackenzie Meehan led the Cats in the first set with three aces and four of her team-high 12 kills. The Cats twice got out by 6 points, but the Jags closed it and tied it at 22 and again at 24 before Meehan powered a pair of kills for the Arundel victory.

Northwest answered by jumping out 5-0 to start the second game, but Arundel soon caught up at 8-12 but Moore was warming up and started pulverizing the ball to ignite a run that led to a 19-10 advantage. With senior setter Janiece Jefferies, who had 32 assists, second only to the 37 by Arundel’s Alicia Eldredge, and 10 digs, dishing out points, the Jags were able to maintain a comfortable lead the rest of the way.

The 5-foot-10 Moore, who has been named Player of the Year by Maryland State Gatorade and the Montgomery County Coaches and has been playing since her freshman year, pounded home the 25th point on a vicious kill to knot the match at 1. Moore, who also had a match high 16 digs, would score the decisive 25th point on kills in each of the next two sets as well.

“We played really well in the first game, but then had trouble connecting after that,” said Arundel coach Ashley Yuscavage, who agreed with her players that “their 18 (Moore) was the best player we played against this year.”

“And I thought their setter (Jefferies) and their libero (Michelle Bennett, 12 digs) were really good.”

In the third set, a kill by senior tri-captain Taylor Wigglesworth, who had 5 kills and four digs for the match, pulled Arundel within 10-14. Northwest gradually pulled away despite a pair of kills by Arundel senior Chyna Gubbings who had 9 kills and 13 digs in the four games. The Jags’ lead was 24-16 when Moore fired in 25 to make it 2-1 Northwest.

“That five to six-point cushion was important in the second and third sets and put us in position for the fourth set,” said Moore.

Freshman Brooke Watts, who was second to Meehan with 11 kills, scored her final two to put Arundel four behind at 9-13 only to have Moore and the Jags go on a 9-0 run for an overwhelming 22-9 lead and it was basically done for the champs. Moore made so by launching the final three kills for the 25-10 win and match victory.

“We had an incredible season and today only one team was going home undefeated,” said Yuscavage, who has coached the Cats to five state final fours and three finals in her 11 seasons at the Gambrills school.