And then there were two By MICHAEL REID
The conference championships have been played out as have the regional championships. Even the state semifinals have been contested.
The only thing left up for grabs is the Class 2A state volleyball championship.
And Calvert and Williamsport of Washington County both want it. Bad.
“Yeah, I guess it really hasn’t hit me yet,” Calvert head coach Tim Smith said as he sat in a corner of the gymnasium Wednesday watching his players practice. “We’ve been trying to enjoy the wins and not try and move on to the next games too fast, so I hadn’t thought about it as our state final yet. It’s just our next match.”
The contest between the Cavaliers (15-1 overall) and Wildcats (18-1) will be played at 6 p.m. Monday at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum in College Park.
“Excited? Just a little,” said Williamsport head coach Emily Crabtree during a telephone interview on Wednesday, laughing. “[We need to] settle in and play our game like we’ve been doing and not do things we’re not used to doing. Just let the game come to us. It’s been a really fun ride [and] they’re excited. They wish we could play tonight. They just want to get in there and defend.”
Their rides through the playoffs have been remarkably similar. Both were top seeds in their respective regions Calvert in the 2A South and Williamsport in the 2A West and both eliminated the No. 2 seeds to reach the state semifinals.
Both had easy wins in the state semis as Calvert allowed 39 points to North Caroline of Caroline County, the East Region champion, while the Wildcats surrendered just 16 to Loch Raven of Baltimore County, the North Region champion.
“It was almost ridiculous really,” Crabtree said of her team’s win over the Raiders. “When you get to that level, you expect to get the best volleyball in the state. Our fans were just sitting there like, ‘What the heck?’ I’m glad we’re in the finals, but it feels better when you feel you’ve earned it and really left everything on the floor. A win’s a win but … the teams we beat in our region could have easily been in that game yesterday.”
And both scouted each other, Calvert before its semifinal match and Williamsport following its win.
“It was a tough read [the Wildcats style of play] based on their opponent, but definitely trying to stop their middle will be one of our goals,” said Smith, referring to Williamsport middle hitter Stacey Christy, who had 14 kills against Loch Raven and has committed to playing at Virginia Tech. “She’s very athletic and talented. I think if we play to our potential and play the way we have all season, I think we can be successful.”
The Wildcats have won 11 straight matches since a 3-2 loss to North Hagerstown on Sept. 24. Williamsport has lost just two games over its last seven matches.
“I think if we can get a block on their hitters and play good, solid defense behind that block, I think that’s going to be key,” said Crabtree, who has a 183-47 career coaching record. “I’m not worried about offense, I think we have a pretty good arsenal, for lack of a better word, but I think defense will be the key. If we can defend their big hitters and they’re strong, they’re very strong [we’ll be OK] and they also have some good hitters and their setter [Lauren Carman], she’s probably the best setter I’ve seen or we’ll face all year.”
The Cavaliers are in their fifth trip to states and won the championship in 1998 and 2003. They reached the semifinals last year, which Smith said could go a long way toward bringing the trophy home.
“They were there last year, so they know what good players they are and they aren’t stressed out about [the final],” said Smith, who has a 47-20 record in four years with the team. “It’ll just be another match to them once we start playing.”
The Wildcats hold the state record for tournament appearances (20) and are second in titles won with 12 and have won five titles, including four straight Class 1A titles from 2002-05. Williamsport became a 2A team in 2010.
“I’m glad we’re going to have a game,” said Crabtree, who has coached the team the past 10 seasons and had a three-year stint as coach from 1993-95. “My initial reaction to [Calvert’s style of play was], ‘Yes, it’s not going to be a cakewalk like last night was.’ We’ll just have to wait and see Monday night. What concerns me the most I guess is that … we’re too excited, we’re too excited, we’re overly pumped or anxious, maybe.”
Crabtree, who is tied for sixth in the state with four state titles, said her biggest concern is her team’s penchant for falling behind early.
“For some reason we like to play from behind,” said Crabtree, whose team has lagged early in a few matches this season but roared back. “It’s like, ‘OK, guys, Coach has had enough.’ I’m not really worried if we get down, they find that way to come back. I’m just hoping Calvert’s not too strong and we can’t dig out of that hole if we find ourselves in one.”
The Wildcats also have a stronger reason for wanting to being the title home. On May 6 of last year, senior outside hitter Samantha Kelly was killed in an automobile accident and the team has dedicated its season to her.
“We’ve been playing off of that higher power feeling right now, so it’s pretty emotional,” Crabtree said. “Our motto this year is, ‘We play for S.R.K’ and this has been like a motivator, big time. I told somebody the other day, ‘I feel like I’m cheating because [it feels like] we’re playing seven versus six right now.’ It’s eerie but it’s … neat.”
Regardless, Carman said it’s simple what the Cavaliers must do to bring the state trophy 52 miles south to Calvert High School.
“We just have to have heart and passion,” she said. “Whenever we do [play with] that, we play 25 million times better.”