Defending state champs sweep No. 3 Seahawks in 4A state volleyball semifinals
by Pat O’Malley
Defensive intensity combined with the power of outside hitter and two-time Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year Jenaisya Moore and fueled by lessons learned from their only loss since 2016 has put Northwest of Mongtomery County in position to win a fourth consecutive Class 4A State Volleyball Championship.
The Jaguars swept VSN’s No. 3 ranked South River in three sets of their semifinal match to advance to next Monday’s 4A State championship match vs. Urbana, a 3-0 victor over Eleanor Roosevelt of Prince Georges’ County. The University of Maryland’s ancient Ritchie Coliseum is the site of the MPSSAA State Tournament where Northwest (17-1) has reeled off three straight State Titles after finishing as a finalist in 2015 and going 75-2 over the last four years.
Northwest spoiled South River’s first appearance in the Final Four since 1998 posting the victory by scores of 25-10, 28-26 and 25-18 as Moore dominated play throughout, especially in her team’s hard earned 2-point victory in the second set that South River’s veteran coach Maureen ‘Mo’ Carter called “the turning point.”
Moore, who is finishing her brilliant career with over 1,000 career kills, pumped in 10 of her match high 21 kills in the 28-26 second set, including the 26th and 27th points. Moore led an assault on South River’s arch-rival Arundel in last year’s 4A State final firing in 33 kills, four short of the state record, in a 3-1 triumph.
Senior outside hitter Samanta Tarabella, who leaves all on the court and donned an ice bag on her right arm afterwards looking like a baseball pitcher, led the Seahawks (16-3) with 15 kills against Northwest.
South River did not get off to a good start as Moore whizzed three kills in a row after Rachel Bennett had landed the first for a 4-0 lead that ballooned to 15-5 then 20-5 and two kills each from Moore and Nicole Reinikka wrapped it for the 25-10 triumph.
In the second set the Seahawks got out to a 9-3 lead driven by Tarabella who notched three kills and two aces, but the Jaguars asnswered with a 6-0 run to create the first of six ties at nine and extended the rally to 11-9 lead. South River would tie it at 13 as Tarabella fired in back-to-back kills.
The two teams battled back and forth until it was tied at 24, 25 and 26. Most matches end at 25, but the winner must have a two-point advantage and Northwest got it at 28-26 on a kill by Moore and a subsequent hitting error by the Hawks. South River’s best effort came up a tad short.
“It just slipped through our fingers,” said 24-year coach Carter. “27-25 (actually was 28-26) was a turning point. We came back in the third set and kept fighting, but we proved we deserved to be there.”
The Hawks sure did and drew the praise of Northwest coach Stephanie Blake, who is 138-36 (.793) with the three state titles in 10 seasons.
“We were excited to play South River and knew they were a good team,” said coach Blake. “We came out in the first set and were ready to play. It’s all about defense and we did what we needed to do. I thought she (Tarabella) was great. She never gave up.”
The Northwest defense throughout the match impressed coach Carter and three of the Hawks key seniors, in Tarabella, outside hitter Savannah Doctor and setter Emily Speciale.
“Their defense did not have the errors we had and they were more fluid and executed very well,” said Doctor.
Doctor’s sentiments were echoed by her coach and the others in the media room afterwards.
“We changed our defense a bit shifting to the right with our liberto (soph Michelle Bennett) deeper and our blocking was big,” said Moore.
A 9-10 deficit on a kill by Doctor turned into a 14-9 lead by the Jaguars and eventually a commanding 20-12 lead for the eventual leaders. While the Hawks battled back to a 17-21 deficit, they just couldn’t finish and Moore’s 21st kill ended it at 25-18 for the three-set sweep by the Jaguars.
Northwest got a wake-up call near the end of the season losing 3-2 to Thomas S. Wootton on Oct. 15, but avenged the loss with a 3-0 victory in the regional. Northwest had won every match by 3-zip with the exception of Wootton, which by the way owns the state record of consecutive state titles with seven, (1983-89), and a 3-1 win over Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the North region final.
“It was the first time we had lost since 2016 and it really got us fired up afterwards,” said coach Blake. “We were sooo pumped up to play them in the regional and it has carried over.”
Moore said the loss “humbled us” and “we turned it into a positive.”
The Jaguars will be ready for Monday’s final against Urbana and are the favorites to notch a fourth state crown in succession while South River packs it up for 2018. The Seahawks have nothing to be ashamed of after failing to make the school’s second state final appearance since 1981 in their overall seven final four berths.
“Friday (Nov. 9, 4A East region title 3-1 win over defending champion Arundel) was a great day and gave us really positive vibes going into tonight,” said senior setter Speciale. “Regardless of what happened tonight, we had a great season and it was great to be here.”
CLASS 4A STATE VOLLEYBALL SEMIFINALS
(at RITCHIE COLISEUM, College Park)
Northwest (17-1) defeated South River (16-3), 3-0
25-10, 28-26 and 25-18.
Pictured above: (from left) South River stars Savannah Doctor, Samanta Tarabella and Emily Speciale.