After Centennial's win over LaPlata in the Class 3A state semifinals earlier this week, senior captain Trisha Mockapetris said the team wanted to bring back the program’s winning "tradition."
The Eagles were in search of a record 15th state crown in Friday night’s title match, but defending 3A champion North Hagerstown had plans to build on its own legacy.
The Hubs overcame deficits in each of the first two games and rolled in the third to beat Centennial, 25-20, 25-22, 25-12, at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum.
“We got beat by a better team – flat out,” Eagles coach Larry Schofield said. “We knew what type of defense they ran, and we knew where the areas were that we could take advantage of. We didn’t execute the way we needed to, and they executed very well.”
Schofield encouraged his team not to hang their heads over the way the season ended.
“I told them 18-1 (record) is nothing to be ashamed of,” Schofield said. “There were a lot of teams that were on the sidelines watching us. We were on the last court, for the last time in 3A. That is something to be proud of. I told the girls to keep that in mind because you want to come back here again.”
Despite falling just short of the ultimate goal, Mockapetris and fellow seniors Lexi White-Torruellas and Hannah McKown believe that this year’s team did more than just restore tradition.
“This was a tough loss but it’s one where you have to just be like, ‘okay, well, that’s that' and move on,” Mockapetris said. “Our school has dwindled in spirit, and getting here has brought it back. It brought that amount of fans here to cheer and support their fellow Eagles.”
Centennial was aggressive early in the opening game. After trading the lead three times, the Eagles began to pull away with leads of 12-8 and 15-11, respectively, before the Hubs rallied.
Peyton Wallech (21 kills) helped power North Hagerstown back into the game. After two Wallech kills and two hitting errors by the Eagles, the Hubs took a 20-17 lead and held on for the set win.
The second game went much like the first, with both teams trading the lead before Centennial pulled out to a four-point advantage.
A kill by junior Jessie Link made it 11-7 before the defending champs were able reclaim the lead at 13-11. The Hubs were eventually able to stretch their advantage to 23-19, but the Eagles weren’t ready to give in.
Meghan Kelley slammed home a kill, Kristen Ritchie served an ace and White-Torruellas pushed the ball past the defense to bring Centennial within one point.
But then Wallech responded with back-to-back kills to shut the door and put the Hubs ahead, 2-0.
“We play mini games – first to five and first to 10,” said Mockapetris, who had a team-high 15 kills. “That’s how we do it instead of making it first to 25. We take the mini steps to get there. In the first set, I know we (were first to 15) but we couldn’t take first to 20 or 25. We came out strong but we didn’t continue that strength throughout the whole entire match.”
North Hagerstown coach Megan Crawford knew her team was facing the state’s most decorated program and was proud of how her kids responded to the early deficits.
“I’m glad it went in three (games), but I didn’t expect it to. Centennial is a great team,” Crawford said. “We’ve played a couple close games this season and for some reason this team doesn’t really get stressed. We were down four points but we just focused on one point at a time to get back into the game.”
By the third game, Centennial couldn’t match North Hagerstown’s intensity and the errors began to pile up.
“I just don’t think we went out there and executed,” Mockapetris said. “We wanted it but we were playing not to lose. We didn’t play to win. We were scared. Every time we touched the ball it was like ‘should I pass this or should I not?’ … Everyone was second guessing themselves when they should have just gone out there and played – including myself.”
While Mockapetris, White-Torruellas and Link were members of the team that played for a state championship two years ago, the other 10 players were on the big stage for the first time.
Ritchie Coliseum was packed to capacity with the student sections from both schools trying to outdo the other.
“It’s a little scary going out there for your first time, for most players, and seeing both fans screaming non-stop,” White-Torruellas said. “We weren’t able to hear each other and I think that got to people. When (North Hagerstown) got point after point and we weren’t in the lead anymore, I think that scared people a little.”
Mockapetris and White-Torruellas will now pass the torch to the younger players and leave the team hungry to maintain the program’s legacy.
“I think that we really did restore the tradition this year following Lexi and Trisha’s leadership,” Link said. “We really learned to work as a team again and I think in the future we’re going to continue to have a strong program.”