Westminster sweeps Towson in Class 2A state volleyball semifinals

Westminster sophomore Jilienne Widener had 20 kills and five aces to lead the Owls to a 25-22, 25-12, 25-15 victory over Towson in the Class 3A state semifinals at the Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland College Park.

Westminster, making its second appearance in the state tournament, will play in the finals on Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. against Northern Calvert.

Towson was making its 16th appearance in the state tournament and third straight.

The Generals won state titles in 2001 and 2010.

Westminster started each set with an ace by setter Emily Bartlett and the team finished with 21 aces, compared to Towson’s six.

Widener had five kills in the first set and the Owls pulled away when they scored six straight points to take a 10-4 lead with libero Hannah Jones on the service line.

“You just have to go back there thinking and being disciplined and focusing on every ball,” Jones said.

Westminster built a 23-14 lead when Towson made a frantic rally with eight straight points to cut the lead to 23-22 with Taylor Mann on the service line.

Mann had a kill, Tyanna Butler had two kills and setter Logan Marsh had three blocks during the run that ended on a hitting error.

Leading 24-22, an ace by Westminster senior Sarah O’Donnell ended Towson’s comeback attempt.

“I really stress just going back there and being confident and knowing my team is behind me and it’s really awesome to get a nice serve, it pumps everybody up,” O’Donnell said.

Towson coach Emily Berman, who played on the Towson state championship team in 2001 and coached the team in 2010, was baffled by the first set.

“The end of the first game they showed me they are capable of putting everything together and playing well,” Berman said. “I think I’m shocked because I think we probably hit our peak on Friday [win over Bel Air] and then to come play like this on Tuesday, I was stunned, because this is not the best that they can do and I do feel like we prepared them for this.”

Towson senior Sara Mandreja, who will play at Adelphi next year, had four of her team-high nine kills in the first set and played excellent defense.

In the second set, Widener took over getting seven straight kills, using a variety of hard-driven crosscourt hits and a roll tip as the Owls turned a 5-5 tie into a 14-6 lead.

They outscored the Generals 11-6 the rest of the way and ended the set with a back-row kill by Widener.

“She [Widener] is fun to watch,” Westminster coach Ed Benish said. “She definitely had some awesome plays and some awesome kills. “She is an exciting player to watch.”

Towson trailed 4-2 early in the third set when Jones reeled off three consecutive aces and the Owls cruised to victory.

Widener had five kills and three aces in the final set, but coach Benish praised his entire team.

“The best part about this team is every member is focused on doing their job to the best of their ability,” Benish said.

Towson senior setter Marsh appreciated her chance to play on the big stage.

“I was definitely glad to be here this year,” Marsh said. “I think we really worked our hardest this season to prepare for this and in the end we didn’t really play the best that we are capable of, or that we have played the last couple weeks, but it’s definitely and honor to compete with a team that good.”

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