Three years ago, Westminster’s volleyball team finished under .500 during the regular season but made a playoff run and landed in the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The Owls met Glenelg in a 3A semifinal and lost in four sets on a Monday night at University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum. It’s a bit of a blur to coach Ed Benish, who recalls feeling anything but calm when he led Westminster into the program’s biggest match to date.
“I was nervous,” Benish said. “I had no idea what Ritchie Coliseum looked like. I didn’t know who Glenelg was. All these unknowns made me nervous. … And I think once we met adversity that showed. My nervousness showed. The whole season, I’ve worked on that. Just breathing and staying focused on myself so that I can make sure their emotions stay in check.
“I think that it’s going to be way different this time just because of that alone.”
The Owls (16-1) are back in the state tourney after winning their second regional crown in four seasons. They swept Tuscarora in the 3A West final Friday to stamp their ticket for a return trip to College Park.
Westminster faces Towson (15-2) on Tuesday night at 6, back at Ritchie Coliseum.
Only one player on this year’s squad — senior hitter Sarah O’Donnell — was a part of the 2014 team that made program history. That unit was 6-8 going into the playoffs before winning four consecutive matches to reach the final four.
This year’s bunch features more balance on offense, but sophomore Jilienne Widener leads the way. She has 328 kills and averages 5.7 per set — Widener hammered out 19 kills against Tuscarora. O’Donnell chips in with 1.7 kills per set, and junior hitter Zoe Costley adds 1.7 per set as well.
Junior setter Emily Bartlett hands out 9.1 assists per set — she had 40 in the regional final.
Benish also utilizes senior libero Hannah Jones on defense, with Widener chipping in along the back row when needed. Widener, Costley, and senior Lindsey Campbell each posted two blocks against Tuscarora.
The Owls were stoked following their victory over the Titans, and Costley said they will do their best to stay calm once they hit the floor for warm-ups Tuesday.
“There definitely will [be nerves], just because we’re in a new environment and we’re not used to it,” Costley said. “It’s a lot bigger than the gyms we play in, but I think our main goal is just to focus on us throughout the game. I think if we can do that then we’ll be fine.”
Towson is making its third consecutive trip to the state semifinals. The Generals, the 3A North champion, last won a state crown in 2010.
This is Westminster’s second appearance ever, and Benish said the Owls are ready for a better approach.
“I was definitely not ready for last time, but when you go 6-8 and then make it to states you’re not expecting that,” the coach said. “This year, I think we’re all prepared.”