The most notable aspect of the Class 4A North Region volleyball final on Friday night in Timonium is that Dulaney lost for the first time this season.
A set, that is. Not the game.
While the Baltimore County champions were on their heels a couple of times against scrappy Howard High, they still managed to advance to a state semifinal Wednesday night at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum (against an undetermined opponent) by prevailing, 25-20, 25-18, 20-25, 25-20, in front of a raucous red-clad crowd.
Senior outside hitter Darla Svoboda paced Dulaney with 30 kills, while her junior counterpart Milan Amos added 13.
"Even last night, and all day today, I was really nervous," she said. "I hardly ate anything, but when I was in the game I pushed myself to jump as high as I can and swing as hard as I can."
After taking the first set, Dulaney (18-0) fell behind in the second set until lefty float serves by Svoboda's younger sister Mallory gave the home team a 13-8 lead that carried them to a 2-0 advantage in sets.
It was in the third set when Howard (15-2) roared back from a 5-2 deficit on a 17-7 run to pull way ahead.
An ace by senior libero Lizzie Berg, a long hit by Dulaney and a kill by senior middle blocker Courtney Merson changed the momentum for Howard in its strongest sequence of the night capped by senior middle blocker Maya Hairston's kill.
The visitors then carried the momentum over to the fourth set, taking an 8-3 lead on a Merson tip before Dulaney found the resolve to rally.
A Darla Svoboda tip finally brought Dulaney back to even, 11-11, and back-to-back aces by senior libero Melaney Nicholls pushed the hosts further ahead.
"We were making a bunch of mistakes and getting mad at each other," said Nicholls, who was also credited with 13 digs and an assist. "But we stopped, took a breath and said 'This is our game.'"
Howard was not done, but after consecutive kills by senior outside hitter Sydney Biniak that forged another tie, Dulaney used a kill by Darla Svoboda to take the lead for good.
Just like that, the momentum was back.
"We were getting a little lazy with out footwork in the third set," Dulaney coach Cary Lyon said. "But I knew in my heart we were better."
Howard coach Grant Scott was well aware that Dulaney would be an able opponent, although he thought his team could match the "other" Lions.
"We were primed and we thought we were ready," said Howard coach Grant Scott, whose team prevailed in five sets over Sherwood of Montgomery County in a regional semifinal. "Dulaney was fantastic. They played way better than what we saw of them on tape."
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