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Film has been watched. The practices continue. Just one more day to get through before the Patuxent Panthers get to play for a chance at state glory.
Saturday, the Panthers will look for the second state volleyball championship when they face off with Poolesville of Montgomery County at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum in College Park. The match is scheduled to begin at noon.
It’s been 11 years since Patuxent won its first state title, back when the school was in the 3A classification. And now the Panthers are looking to add 2013 to the state volleyball banner high atop the gymnasium.
“They’ve been spirited and focused and energetic,” Patuxent head coach Kevin Keller said at Wednesday’s practice. “They’re focusing on the fundamentals. My hopes are that they stay focused.”
Coming off a four-set win in the state semifinals in College Park to Hereford of Baltimore County on Monday night, Keller knows his team will rise to the occasion Saturday.
“I don’t have any worries at all there; the girls are really focused,” he said. “They played really well in that last match [against Hereford]. They were acclimated [to the surroundings] and ready.”
Senior middle hitter Sabrina Roberts added, “I’m feeling pretty confident,” Roberts said. “When we work as a team we get it done. We have faith in each other and we trust that we’re going to cover the court well. We work as a team and not individually. We have a lot of students that are planning to come and that really gets us pumped up.”
Keller wants his team (15-3 overall) to have fun on the court, but winning is at the top of the agenda.
“We’re here to win, not just to show up,” Keller said, “and that’s how they’re playing. I want them to stay on an even keel, not to get too high or too low, just stay nice and focused and everything will take care of itself.”
And to win, the Panthers will be going up against a Poolesville squad that has not lost this season, a perfect 18-0. In those 18 matches, only two have needed more than three sets.
“I know Poolesville is a good team and well-coached,” Keller said. “We feel pretty good and I have all the faith in these ladies. This started three years ago with this group and they’ve played well together.”
Senior setter Sarah Nepini, who finished with 38 assists, and the team had a chance to watch Poolesville’s state semifinal game, a 3-0 win over Rising Sun of Cecil County.
“We’re going to take some notes on them today and go from there,” Nepini said. “We’re all going to leave it all on the court.”
Senior outside hitter Ashley Graves said it’s an amazing feeling to be in the position they’re in.
“It’s awesome because we haven’t made it this far in 11 years,” Graves said, “and for all of us to come together as a team and work as one if the biggest thing and we, as seniors, we wanted to leave our mark and we definitely did. Seniors or not, everyone’s a part of this team and has brought us here. I was a little nervous in the semifinal game, but once I stepped on the court, I was like, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’ Our school spirit is fantastic. I feel like we have the most school spirit. For everyone to come up, and we had school the next day. It’s not just at the games, the support is here at school daily.”
Nepini is taking in every moment of her senior year, with the last match, last point to come Saturday.
“The fact that all the starters are seniors make it all the more special to play these last couple games,” Nepini said. “I was a little nervous on the bus ride up, but not when I got on the court [in the semifinal]. Everyone in school are awesome and so supportive. Everyone came up for the state semis and we didn’t even have a fan bus, they drove up. Teachers are always congratulating us in the hallways. It’s a huge game for us. As seniors, this is the last game.”
Patuxent (15-3) vs. Poolesville (18-0)
What: Class 2A state volleyball championship
When: Noon Saturday
Where: University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum, College Park