College Park - Bel Air's trip to the Maryland girls volleyball state semifinals didn't go as well as the team's first 19 matches this season.
The Bobcats (19-1) ran into a powerful North Hagerstown team, which was back to defend a Class 3A state title won a year ago. And defend is what they did, defeating the Bobcats, 3-0, inside the confines of Ritchie Coliseum. Scores were 25-19, 25-10 and 25-11.
Bel Air struggled with the power and defense brought by the Hubs throughout the match, causing the Bobcats to make unusual mistakes.
"I thought we didn't play our best game," Bel Air Head Coach Tim Markland said. "We've played very good games in the past, but we were against a very good North Hagerstown team. I never wanted our girls to quit and I don't feel like they did that."
Hubs senior Peyton Wallech did most of the damage against the Bobcats, driving down a match-high 17 kills, as many as the Bobcats had as a team.
North Hagerstown had 15 kills in the first set, which aided in the Hubs jumping out to a 11-4 lead on a Sarah Bentley ace. Markland called the first of five timeouts in the match and out of it, Bel Air junior Celeste Roland recorded her first kill. Roland led Bel Air with nine kills.
North Hagerstown's lead jumped quickly to 18-9 and forced another Bel Air timeout.
Tia Williams, a Bel Air senior, added her first kill of the match to give the Bobcats hope at 19-10.
Another Williams kill and a few serves by her as well, pulled the Bobcats to within six, 22-16. Roland added a kill at set point, 24-19, but the set ended on a serving error.
"I think we weren't really in rhythm with our usual flow," Amanda Rodriguez said. "Today we had a completely different environment, different fans. It was really just we were out of rhythm."
Despite the first set loss, the Bobcats seemed to improve as the game went on, leaving hope that the next game might be better. It wasn't. Neither was the third.
The Bobcats fell behind, 5-1, to start the second set, but behind the serves of junior Rodriguez, closed to 6-4.
North Hagerstown answered the short run by Bel Air as Lauren Serafini served the Hubs to a 16-5 lead and they never looked back. A Williams kill, the first of the set for the Bobcats, made it, 17-7.
North Hagerstown put the set and the match in perspective with the score, 22-9. What appeared to be a likely Bel Air point, was saved near the grandstands. The ball was played back over to Bel Air, but on the return back to North Hagerstown, Wallech pounded down a kill.
Zoe Schreiber then served out the win.
The Hubs had 37 digs, which limited the Bobcats kills.
"It's pretty frustrating," Roland said. "All you can do is make sure the next hit, they don't return it."
The Hubs closed the match with the lopsided third set win. Ironically, it was the only set Bel Air led. The Bobcats scored the first three points and led, 4-1, but North Hagerstown rallied and went ahead, 5-4. The Bobcats never led again.
A block for one point and a kill for another by Schreiber pushed the Hubs lead to 13-8. At 14-8, Roland added her final kill, but North Hagerstown led at 18-9 on another Schreiber block.
Only fitting, Wallech finished the final set with a kill.
"It was definitely the best team we've played all year," senior Jackie Deluise said. "Everyone went out there and gave it their all."
Williams had six kills in the loss and Rodriguez had 15 assists. Kendall Daley had seven digs, while Sam Liberto and Roland each had five.