COLLEGE PARK – The road that took Winston Churchill High School to the 4A state volleyball semifinals on Nov. 12 could not have been more different than the path that brought the Bulldogs’ opponent, Arundel High School, to the big dance.
The 12-3 Bulldogs entered Richie Coliseum at the University of Maryland – College Park as the No. 5 seed that had rebounded from a losing season in 2018 and had only appeared in one previous tournament. The Wildcats, on the other hand, were the undefeated No. 1 seed making their sixth appearance in the tournament. Arundel had registered a winning record in 11 of the last 12 seasons and had earned state finalist honors in 2012.
That familiarity with the state’s stage helped the Wildcats win the first two sets. It appeared as though Arundel was going to head to states to face familiar foe Broadneck High School after three straight sets, but Churchill rallied and seized the third set. However, Arundel would eventually win the match in four: 25-17, 25-12, 28-30, 25-14.
“I’ve been the coach for nine years, and we’ve worked for nine years to get here,” said Churchill Head Coach Cindy Hillard. “I can’t be more proud of my girls getting to states. It’s a very emotional thing for me; I don’t ever cry, but it was hugely emotional that we worked really hard to get here.”
The Bulldogs leaned heavily on outside hitter Anna Lydia Siegenthaler, and the sophomore delivered the points when her team needed them the most. Siegenthaler hovered by the net, waiting for her opportunity to strike, before landing the kill that pulled the Bulldogs within one point in the third set.
The first two sets may have gone to Arundel, but mistakes like passing errors, service errors and net violations kept the Bulldogs in the game. The Wildcats would score a few points in a row, then commit mistakes that would pull Churchill closer. Arundel outside hitter Brooke Watts was instrumental in keeping the Bulldogs at bay; the junior registered 18 kills and three back-to-back aces.
It was the third set, though, that the Bulldogs were especially proud of. Arundel junior middle blocker Aaliyah Griffin admitted that the Wildcats eased off a little after winning the first two sets, and Churchill capitalized.
“I think we just made a lot of careless mistakes, like things we wouldn’t usually do. We were just kind of laid back because we won the first two, and then we were like, ‘this will be easy, we’ve got this one,’” said Griffin. “So we kind of stepped back from what we usually do, and it just fell apart.”
The momentum kept mounting for the Bulldogs, particularly at the end of the set. Churchill had just overcome a deficit to tie and then take the lead away from the Wildcats. Then, the seesaw between the two teams upped in intensity. A kill by Watts followed a Churchill net violation, an Arundel service error preceded another kill from Watts. Service error, net violation, then a kill by Arundel’s Zaria Ragler.
The Wildcats missed 11 serves in the third set, and the Bulldogs rejoiced after every Arundel mistake. Warring chants of “let’s go Bulldogs!” and “let’s go Wildcats!” began to fill Richie Coliseum. A resounding roar rose up from the Churchill fans in attendance when Siegenthaler set up the set-winning kill for senior Madison Steffes.
“We fought hard, and we took a set from them and we’re all really proud of what we did,” said Siegenthaler. “We had to take that inner motivation, we just had to talk and use our strategies and we really put our strategies to life in the third set. We all came together as one and we really worked the most as a team in that set.”
The Bulldogs, encouraged by their success, tied with Arundel again in the fourth set. However, a net violation and a four hits violation against Churchill kick-started a Wildcats scoring run that left the Bulldogs reeling. An Arundel hitting error and another kill from Siegenthaler delayed the Wildcats win for just a few moments before a Churchill net violation ended the set and the match.
“I’m hoping that that was us working out some of our nerves so we can settle in and get ready for Saturday,” said Arundel Head Coach Ashley Yuscavage of her team’s mistakes. “We talked about not missing 11 serves; that was a big problem. It’s hard to get momentum if you’re missing serves.”
The Wildcats will play Broadneck for the third time this season on Nov. 16 for the 4A state championship.