The Western Tech volleyball team takes pride in creating a fun, family-like atmosphere on the court and the Wolverines (14-3) did just that and set the tone early in the Class 1A North Region Section I finals sweep over Loch Raven on Wednesday night.
The first six kills of the match were recorded by six different Wolverines and they helped the Raiders roll to a 25-15, 25-16, 25-21 victory.
Western Tech advances to the Class 1A North Region championship game and will host Dunbar on Friday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m.
The Wolverines will be going for their first regional title since they won the school’s first and only crown in 2011.
That came in Class 1A, but the following year they moved up to Class 2A and haven’t been to the state tournament’s final four.
Against Loch Raven, Imari Cooper (8 kills) and libero Carley Boarman (6 kills) led the Wolverines in hitting, but they weren’t all conventional front row spikes.
Several came out of the back row.
“We’ve been practicing hitting out of the back row because nobody really expects it,” sophomore setter Beatrice Daudelin said. “We are pretty good out of the back row, especially number eight [Cooper]. She’s a phenomenal hitter, so I just try to set her whenever possible.”
Daudelin and middle hitter Brea Thomas added three kills each, while Emily Badin and Avaion Barry added two each and Rachel Durham contributed a kill and block.
Daudelin and Boarman (4 aces each) and Barry (3 aces) shined on the service line.
Amber Medina had five kills and Katarina Djukic had three kills and three aces for the Raiders (9-8).
The key stretch in the first set came when Daudelin toed the service line with an 11-9 lead after a Loch Raven hitting error.
A two-handed kill by Boarman, off a back set by Daudelin, made it 12-9 and Boarman’s ace and a serve-receive mistake pushed the lead to 14-9.
Loch Raven never got any closer the rest of the set and the Wolverines finished with 11 kills and seven aces.
In the second set, Loch Raven missed three of its first four serves and the Wolverines built a 9-3 lead and never looked back.
The third and final set wasn’t as easy, thanks to strong hitting from Loch Raven’s Medina, who had four kills, and serving from Djukic and Sarah Levy, who each had two aces in the final set.
The score was tied 15-15 when Western Tech coach Eric Jett reminded his team, that has won 13 of its last 14 and seven straight matches, to relax.
“We have had a pretty decent run over the last couple of weeks and we haven’t had many teams pressure us,” Jett said. “The last time we had that was the last time we played Loch Raven. They put together a pretty nice run against us.”
In that clash, on Oct. 24, Western Tech had a big lead and held on for a 26-24 victory in the first set, but they lost the second, before winning the final two.
“They were very excited to be in a close game, but this time I could sense them being a little tight, you could tell by the way they clapped and looked at each other,” Jett said. “I just had to remind then we are fine with this, we like playing in tight games.”
After the time out, the Wolverines reeled off three straight points with a pair of aces by Barry that followed a hitting error by the Raiders.
“We play better when we are having a lot more fun, so we tried to get the energy up and we tried to pick it up,” Daudelin said. “We just had to get a little loose and play and have more fun.”
Western Tech led 18-15, but the Raiders didn’t quit.
A kill by Djukic and pair of kills from Medina nudged them to within one, 20-19.
But a back row kill by Cooper gave the Wolverines the momentum.
“It (hitting from the back row) is a concerted effort,’ Jett said. “We just started doing it against them the last time and they had a lot of trouble with it.”
A Loch Raven hitting error made it 22-19 and Daudelin’s ace pushed the lead to 23-19.
A pair of kills by Maddie Ring was all the Raiders could muster the rest of the way.
“You’ve got to give credit to Western Tech, they utilized all their weapons and they did a really good job,” Loch Raven coach Matt Smith said. ”We’re young and inexperienced, hopefully next year it will be a little different.”
Jett hopes the Wolverines can be sharper when they host Dunbar.
“We really didn’t have our game tonight, but they can play through that, which is saying quite a bit,” Jett said. “We had a number of players whose timing was off and that happens. It’s okay and that’s one of the harder things to try and convince them it’s okay, just keep plugging along, you can’t worry about it.”