A year ago, the Covenant Life Christian School’s girls volleyball team lost in five sets to Heritage High School in the Maryland Christian Schools Tournament.
This fall — and the third time in as many years — the teams met again in the title match, which went five sets.
“I was a little discouraged because I thought, ‘We’re going to see this again,’” senior right side Abby Hollandsworth said. “I think everyone had that in the back of their mind. But I think that motivated us to kill it on every point.”
And the Cougars did, winning the fifth set, 15-8, to claim their first ever MCST championship.
It was a bit of vindication for the seniors, who had suffered through the losses in recent years.
“It was the best moment knowing all our hard work this season paid off,” said setter Kelly McShea, who plans to play for Loyola next year.
This wasn’t supposed to be the season that Covenant Life finally overcame their championship woes. The Gaithersburg school graduated five seniors the previous year and, even with five seniors on the current roster, the team was young and inexperienced.
There were bumps early in the season, but it all came together for the tournament when coach John Garrett said the girls played their best volleyball.
“We didn’t really gell until this tournament, which was surprising,” he said. “I think the seniors led the charge because they had gotten beaten two years running and they were not happy about that, especially last year because it went to five games.”
Senior Caitlin Cooney, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, said it came down to training during the season.
With Garrett working them hard — Cooney specifically pointed out doing 100 box jumps each practice — the Cougars’ stamina was much better heading into the fifth set, something she said hindered them the year before.
Shutting down Heritage’s middle hitter was also a priority, and the combo of Cooney and Liesl Englebrecht were up to the task.
“We were focused on encouraging each other and playing together,” said McShea who, along with Hollandsworth, was named to the All-Tournament team. “It was a team effort and we were definitely focusing on playing as a team. It was probably our best match of the season.”
Cooney said after the last point fell everything was a flash. The Cougars fell on the ground, the team rushed the floor and Garrett leaped into the air.
The feeling is still sinking in, especially since no one was expecting it. But it’s a feeling she will savor for a long time to come.
“Going into states, we just thought, ‘Let’s have a positive outlook because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out,’” she said. “We had nothing to lose and we left it all on the court.”