Looking toward a potential matchup with Centennial in the Class 3A state finals, Towson High volleyball coach Emily Berman began prepping her team a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ll probably lose games,” said Berman told her squad. “It’s going to be a tough match.”
Berman didn’t have in mind a 0-2 deficit, which the No. 3 Generals faced Friday evening. But Berman and Towson were determined not to leave the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum without a fight.
The Generals did just that, and walked out Ritchie as state champions. Towson pulled off a stirring comeback before a packed audience, upending the top-ranked Eagles in five sets, 21-25, 17-25, 25-19, 25-23 and 15-13, for the program’s first state title in 10 years.
Junior hitter Lauren Bosse had 18 kills and four digs for the Generals (22-1) and Kelly Lacy contributed 15 kills and 12 digs. Samatha Brostrom led Centennial (21-3) with 17 kills and 14 digs, and Liz Brown had 16 kills and 13 digs.
Not fazed by the deficit, Centennial’s power game or mystique, the Generals outlasted the Howard County powerhouse with sheer determination and some luck.
In the decisive fifth set, the Eagles committed six serve errors, the last leaving Towson serving for the championship. Bosse put back down a dig by Brostrom at the net, completing the stunning rally.
“We didn’t control every point, we didn’t control every game but we kept the momentum coming in our direction,” said Berman. “In the fifth game, they handed it to us.”
“Twenty three serves and lose by two,” said Centennial coach Larry Schofield, referring to his team’s total serving errors. “It comes down to mental toughness. We owned them the first two games, they started getting a little smarter about where to put the ball. We knew they would do that and we weren’t able to dig [shots] it out.
With the ability to get some of those, you can’t miss 23 serves.”
The combination of good serving with power hitting of Brown, Brostrom, Trisha Mockapetris and Jaimie Fabling put Centennial up two games. With a massive section of students cheering wildly, a 15th state championship appeared to be a formality.
“I was starting to get so angry, I was not going to let them do that to us again,” said Bosse remembering to her freshman season in 2008 when Centennial swept the Generals in the 3A state finals.
Bosse put Towson on her back, landing shots all over the Centennial defense. She put the Generals on track to their first win of the evening in the third set with a kill for a 22-16 advantage. Towson methodically started finding gaps against Centennial’s defense.
“In the first two games, I kept hitting the block and Berman was like ‘Hanna you have to move,’” said Towson junior hitter Hannah Wohltmann. “In the third game, I decided to hit the spot so I pushed it deep line and no one was there.”
“We were not going to out-powered them. They got big strong girls and they play hard,” said Berman. “I think we were smarter, we put the ball where it needs to go.”
In the fourth set, Wohltmann’s kill gave Towson its largest lead at 20-17 before Centennial pulled even at 21 on a kill by May Yang. The game was even at 23 but a Centennial violation followed a by shot landing out, pushed the Generals to victory and a fifth set.
The Generals never trailed in the final set as a pair of kills by Bosse set the tone. After its serving debacle, Centennial was able to pull even at 13 as Carly Simennauer’s serve landed inside the backline for an ace.
But for every positive play, a mistake seemingly followed for the Eagles over the final three games. Simennauer ensuing serve landed out, and Bosse slammed the door shortly thereafter.
“Towards the end, they found our holes and I guess we just got nervous,” said Brostrom. “We were confident in the beginning, but it started getting away from us.”
“We knew that they were good defensively and our coaches told us we would have to be mentally tough,” said Eagles junior setter Grace Chao, who had 26 assists. “Eventhough we can throw our best shots they would get the ball up, and just have to win the war of attrition. I think we kind of forgot about that and let things get inside our heads.”
A week after its epic region finals victory over River Hill, Centennial tasted defeat for the first time in the state title game. The Eagles knew they let Towson walk across the championship altar.
“We made the errors, we gave them most the points,” Brostrom said. “If we played like we did against River Hill, pushing for every single point, it might have come out a different way.”
“River Hill is a long rivalry, but state finals are state finals,” said Brown. “It’s not an excuse for how we played. We just didn’t play.”
The last time Towson won a state title was 2001 (Class 2A) with Berman leading the charge as a player. She said she didn’t remember the previous championship being as difficult.
“I can’t believe we won. Two-0 against Centennial is something really hard to come back from,” said Berman, whose team lost in the previous three seasons in the state Final Four. “We made them [Centennial] work, that’s what we do. We wear them down until there’s no other option and they’re done fighting. I think we did that.”
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