By Harry Lichtman
SILVER SPRING — The Maryland High School 4A Girls Volleyball Playoffs began Thursday with the quarterfinals for various schools, including the Northwood Gladiators and Springbrook Blue Devils, with the Gladiators coming out on top with a road win of three sets to none.
All three sets were very competitive between the two teams, but number five-seeded Northwood was able to sneak by number four-seeded Springbrook 26-24, 26-24 again, and 25-23.
The Blue Devils dominated the majority of the first set, taking a 22-12 lead at one point. However, the Gladiators woke up and tied it up at 24-24, then scored the next two points to seal the first set.
“It came down to serving,” said Gladiators head coach Phuong Tat. “I told the girls, ‘Look, it’s OK. We’ll get it back one point at a time,’ and really, as long as we can keep the ball over the net. I thought at the beginning of the set, we made a lot of crucial errors, especially on hitting, especially missed serves.”
Then, the next two sets were basically neck-and-neck. The second set also resulted in a 24-24 tie, with Northwood scoring the next two points yet again, while the third set resulted in a 23-23 tie, followed by two final scores from the Gladiators.
“We lost because of our mistakes,” said Blue Devils head coach Ray Baleikasavu. “We gave the win away in that match because our team was not mentally prepared. The good thing about it is that most of our players are sophomores and juniors. So come next year, I’m looking forward to a powerful and very competitive team next year.”
A couple of key players who contributed to Northwood’s three-set victory were Kendalle Foster and Mikaela Marchant Perez. Foster led the team with the most kills, while Marchant Perez had the second-most.
Head coach Phuong Tat was quite impressed with his team’s win, after having finished the season 3-11.
“For these girls, there’s everything,” Tat said. “We struggled a lot during the regular season. A couple [of] games were close and then we dropped them. But I think for them to realize that ‘Hey, this is postseason, when you’re supposed to step it up,’ and when they did, their confidence is up.”
Despite the loss, Springbrook kept each set competitive, with the help of players like Logan Lewis, Daria Holoman, and Raevon Baleikasavu, the daughter of head coach Ray.
“These are all sophomores,” said Ray,” and they’re all playing very, very good volleyball. In two years, they’ll be the most-powerful spikers in the whole tournament. So I’m proud of the way they’ve developed, in the way they’ve achieved what I expect of them. Despite the loss, we are happy with their performance.”
This was sort of a comeback season for the Blue Devils, considering that they finished 6-7 one year after winning only one game.
“It was quite challenging as a new coach to try and bring players together,” said Baleikasavu, “because different players come in with different training and different mindsets and I’m trying to make them play in one unit.”
With the win, Northwood advances to the next round to face the number one-seeded Urbana Hawks.