By Eva Paspalis
COLLEGE PARK — The Northwest Lady Jaguars (16-1) varsity volleyball team stamped their ticket to their fifth straight state championship appearance Monday after sweeping the South River Seahawks (16-2) from Anne Arundel County in three sets: 25-10, 28-26, 25-18 at Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland College Park.
The road each team took to the 4A state semifinals couldn’t be more different. The experienced Jaguars were used to the big stage and rowdy crowd in College Park and, after losing their first game since 2016 back in October, used the loss as extra motivation. On the other hand, the Seahawks were making their first state appearance since 1997 and hadn’t been to the state championship since 1981.
“They’ve been here before; they come here all the time,” said Seahawks senior Samanta Tarabella. “This was our first time, and we got in here a little bit nervous.”
Those nerves translated to the court on the first set as South River committed multiple net violations and ball-handling errors that allowed the Jaguars to pull away. Northwest seniors Jenaisya Moore and Rachael Bennett took advantage of South River’s missteps and earned a combined eight kills in the first set alone.
In the second set, however, the Seahawks ramped up their energy and came out swinging, pulling ahead of Northwest for their first lead at 8-2. South River head coach Maureen Carter said she had to reassure her players
that they deserved to be in the
“We had to believe in ourselves a little sooner than we did,” said Carter.
South River’s lead ended up being short-lived as the Jaguars answered back, and soon the two teams were tied at nine kills apiece. Moore hovered on the left side of the net and slammed kills quicker than the Seahawks could react. Northwest senior Morgan Lowrey and junior Nataliya Chepurnova worked in tandem in the middle, leaping into the air in unison to make sure the Seahawks didn’t pull away again.
Players on South River’s bench were out of their seats as their team fought to get the upper hand over the defending champions. Moore’s kill at the line completed Northwest’s comeback and gave the Jaguars the second set.
“We were down, and we just couldn’t get out of that servicing rotation, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the game, and it was back and forth all the way,” said Moore. “It was their momentum, they had the momentum
The momentum swung back in Northwest’s favor in the final set as South River committed a pair of ball-handling errors early on. Bennett dropped a kill right at the feet of Seahawks libero Amanda Vigil, who went to her knees in an attempt to return the ball.
Northwest’s game-winning point came on another South River mistake. The ball hit the side of the net, and the players on the Jaguars bench bounded onto the court to celebrate with the rest of their team.
“I could tell in the first set that [South River] was a little bit scared because the first time we came here it was scary too. Since we’ve been here for the last five years, we’re kind of comfortable with it,” said Northwest head coach Stephanie Blake. “I think we definitely had an advantage that our older girls are used to it.”
Both Moore and Blake said that the loss against Wootton a month ago kick-started Northwest’s motivation to head back to states.
“We were definitely humbled by that game. I think just winning and winning we don’t see people challenging us, and when we finally get that challenge we know we have to play different,” said Moore. “I think that loss really humbled us.”
The Jaguars now have a week to prepare to face the Urbana Hawks next Monday in their fifth state championship appearance in a row. Number one-seeded Urbana swept Eleanor Roosevelt on Monday to earn their spot in the title game.