For the overwhelming majority of Tuesday night’s volleyball match with the visiting La Plata Warriors, Northern had dominated play. But after the visitors fought off three match points to tie the third set at 24, the momentum was clearly shifting.
Northern senior Shannon Salo knew her team was still in a good position and knew how to react to the situation.
“I just wanted to calm down,” she said. “We can’t freak out now because otherwise everything is going to fall apart.”
Fall apart the Patriots did not, as they won the next two points punctuated by a Allie Timbario shot on the match’s final point as Northern secured a 25-12, 25-12, 26-24 win over La Plata in a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference crossover matchup in which both teams brought in spotless records.
“We just did exactly what we were supposed to,” Salo said. “Calm down, take a few breaths and then we pulled it together and got the win.”
It wasn’t just another night for Northern (8-0 overall), as the Patriots had the night marked on the schedule from the start of the season and maybe even before. La Plata (6-1) had defeated Northern twice a season ago and the Patriots had not forgotten.
“We’ve had this match on our minds for a long time, after the loss last year,” Salo said. “We’ve been practicing so hard and I’m just really happy with the outcome. I think we all played really, really well. We were firing from everything. All of our players played amazing.”
Through the first two sets on Tuesday, Northern trailed for exactly one point. The Patriots won the first point on an Allie Droneberger kill and never looked back.
Northern won a couple of points on Droneberger’s serve, and then points on shots from Jaelyn King, Chantele McCray and Timbario pushed the lead to a quick 6-1. Later, lengthy service runs by King and Gabby Elbrecht helped extend the lead further in a set the Patriots eventually won handily at 25-12.
“We came out with a lot of energy and passion tonight,” Northern head coach Bobby Gibbons said. “That was missing last year. They beat us twice last year. We have been talking about this match for a long time. We thought we had to come out here and show them how we can really play. We’re just happy that the girls came out and played with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm tonight. It showed, and that passion is contagious. Everybody stepped their game up tonight against a really good team.”
Samantha Falenofoa’s kill to open the second set gave La Plata a 1-0 advantage, but Northern took the next two points to leapfrog in front. The Warriors tied the score at 2, but the Patriots then reeled five straight points on Alissa Jester’s serve to take command on the way to ultimately taking the second set by an identical 25-12 score.
La Plata seemed to finally find its footing in the third, even leading as late as 20-19 before Northern took control to go up 24-21 on a Timbario kill. But the Warriors did not wilt, pulling to within 24-22 on a Patriots error, then 24-23 when Jayci Chamberlain put a shot down before another Northern error knotted the score. But the visitors were unable to extend the match to a fourth set.
“I think we weren’t necessarily ready,” La Plata head coach Ashley Buchanan said. “We came in knowing that it was going to be tough either way. Northern is always a tough team and with us beating them twice last year we knew that they wanted revenge. They didn’t graduate anyone so it’s the same team from last year, so we knew it was going to be rough. I just don’t think we were necessarily mentally or even physically prepared.”
La Plata was scheduled to be back in action today, hosting Lackey at 5:30 in a SMAC Potomac Division matchup.
With its whole team back from last year, expectations were naturally high for Northern. But with the schedule taking an upturn in terms of the competitive level this week, the Patriots were anxious to see how they stacked up, now with experience a little more on their side.
“All season we’ve really been focusing on this week with La Plata and Leonardtown,” Droneberger said. “These are going to be really hard matches during our conference play. We were really excited to get out and we played with a lot of energy. I’m really proud of the team.
“We have the same team as last year, so we’re able to close out the matches instead of what we did last year, where we would be really good one set and mess up the other. It really proved to us that we’ve gotten better.”
Northern was set to host Leonardtown on Thursday and will host Westlake at 5:30 p.m. Monday. County rival Huntingtown looms on the schedule on Oct. 15, but the victory against La Plata was a big test for the Patriots to pass as they start to head down the regular season’s home stretch.
“It was so important for us to win this,” Gibbons said. “We knew that La Plata, Leonardtown, Huntingtown, there’s some really good teams in our conference and we’re just now starting to get into those tough matches. We needed to prove to ourselves that we could come out and compete with a very, very good volleyball team. Tonight we did that.
“I think we learned about ourselves, especially when La Plata tied it up at 24 in the third set. We responded with two points right away. That just shows heart. That shows the commitment and dedication and desire to never quit.”