By Carlos Alfaro
COLLEGE PARK — The Northwest Jaguars varsity volleyball team has never been an underdog story. Instead, they were the Goliath every school wanted to take down. The Urbana Hawks were the latest David to fail: in this case, 3-0.
For the fourth year in a row, the Northwest Jaguars are 4A volleyball state championships, finishing another season of continued dominance in the sport, in which the only taste of defeat this year came in a close loss against the Wootton Patriots in October.
“Urbana had nothing to lose; they made it here. But we’re the reigning champs; we’ve been here three times in a row, all the pressure is on us,” said Jaguars head coach Stephanie Blake. “Everyone wants to take us down; everyone wants to be the team that makes us lose.”
Even the moniker used to describe their accomplishment seems silly: a three-peat is a lofty and elusive goal for most teams, but a four-peat seems mythical and nigh unachievable.
For the Hawks, the night was historic, albeit bittersweet. Before Monday night, the closest the Hawks have been to the championship was a 2009 semifinal appearance.
“Bottom line is, I’m extremely proud of them, and I couldn’t ask for more. It can only go up from here,” said Hawks head coach Kayla Martin.
The Hawks became the latest challengers to attempt to dethrone the Jaguars, and for a while they were close. A shifting momentum in the first set had the Hawks on the verge of a comeback that could have shifted the balance of power.
After the Hawks scored their second point, the Jaguars went on a 17-point rampage fueled by sophomore setter Yvonne Nguyen’s aces and senior outside hitter Jenaisya Moore’s kills.
But after a point by junior opposite hitter Nataliya Cherpurnova, the Hawks scraped by a small streak before going on a tit-for-tat exchange of points that ended in the Jaguars losing their massive 20-2 lead and settling for a 25-14 first-set win.
The next two sets ended in identical score lines, at 25-13, but showed a shift in how the Hawks were going to deal with Moore. Their front line had issues going up against her defense, and, conversely, defending against her spikes.
For a good portion of the second set, the game could have belonged to either team, but errors and a three-kill streak by Moore widened the lead enough to secure the second set.
“We’re known to have a block party. We’ll get them, and it’s so much fun to not do anything in the back row, and the front row can just handle it,” said Moore.
With the third set as the final obstacle between the Jaguars’ fourth title and the Hawks’ championship survival, both teams aimed to make it their best. The Hawks had an early lead and kept the score tight, but a stalwart Jaguars front line spiked and blocked their shots enough to widen the margin and ultimately win the third and final set.
“I’m not sure which one felt better, the first, second, third or fourth, but it was another good night,” said Blake.