The 2013 Howard County volleyball championship race not only came down to the last day of the regular season, it came down to the last point. Howard (12-1) defeated visiting Glenelg (11-2) in five sets Thursday evening, 25-18, 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 15-13.
“It's exactly what I expected. They are a great ball team and we're a great ball team, and I expected it to come down to the very end,” Howard coach Grant Scott said. “I didn't think 15-13 in the fifth game, but I really thought it would be tooth and nail all the way down to the end.”
The win gives Howard its first Howard County championship since at least 1980, when the Lions won the state title.
“I've been coaching here since 1999 and when I started we had one win, out of county. We had a cardboard box for a ball cart,” Scott said. “Volleyball was not even a sport at Howard High School, and for it to go to this point, to win a county championship, it's fantastic.”
Howard senior Sydney Biniak led the Lions with 25 kills and 26 digs, including a booming spike for match point.
The match was a duel between two of the best hitters in the state, as Glenelg's Morgan Perry tallied 27 kills in the loss.
“Outside is definitely the most set side as the power hitter, and us playing on the same club team we know each others tendencies and I have a ton of respect for her and she played great,” Biniak said.
Before the tiebreaking fifth set, Biniak and Perry met at the center of the court as captains. The two star hitters shook hands and smiled at each other before giving their teammates final motivation to win the county title.
“I wanted to win, I know that if I play well I know the people around me play well, they respond, so we just feed off each other. Positive play and positive attitudes, we can help each other play better,” said Perry, who also had a team-high 22 digs. “It's amazing to see what (Biniak) can do. She leads her team and everyone responds when she does well so I respect her as a player.”
The match intensified in the fourth set when the two teams tied at 18-18, 19-19, 20-20, 21-21 and 22-22 before Molly Calvert served back-to-back aces to give the Gladiators control and set up the fifth set.
Howard took an early 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but the Gladiators battled back to keep it close and eventually took a 12-11 lead on Perry’s fifth and final kill of the final set. The lead didn’t last long, though, as Glenelg made three consecutive unforced errors to give Howard a commanding 14-12 lead.
“Being at 14 is really nerve wracking because you're so close but they're still fighting and they're still in it,” Biniak said. “Anything can happen.”
Molly Calvert saved match point with a point block of Biniak to cut the Lions lead to 14-13, but on the next point Howard setter Hanna Webster got a good pass and went right back to Biniak, who pounded it down for the title.
“It’s great motivation for the playoffs so we're just going to keep working and keep fighting and hopefully make it to states,” Biniak said.
Glenelg is the only team to have beaten Howard this season, in five sets at Glenelg on Sept. 16. That match ended with Glenelg winning the fifth set, 15-13.
“We knew it was going to be tough especially on their senior night. They're pumped up and ready to play. They wanted to beat us, we're their only loss, so we knew we were going to be facing a different Howard team, but we played really well,” Perry said. “They're a great team and we fought with them until the end, so I'm proud of my team for the way we played.”
Howard will now attempt to win the 4A state title, while Glenelg will chase the 3A championship. Glenelg won its last county title in 2003 and its last state title in 2005.
“It's a devastating loss, but with us going into the playoffs this will build us. This didn't leave a good taste but come state playoffs we know where we are,” first-year Glenelg coach Jason Monjes said. “There was a lot of net play. When they played us at home it was the same deal, scrapping it out ... We got some blocks on Sydney, but we didn't win as many points as we normally would. They played great defense tonight. They were digging balls that they weren't when we played them at the beginning of the year.”
Glenelg sophomore setter Rachael Girard tallied 45 assists, while Howard junior Hanna Webster collected 43.
Glenelg’s Sarah Girard (10) and Molly Calvert (9) combined for an additional 19 kills, while Howard middles
Courtney Merson (12) and Maya Hairston (8) complemented Biniak with another 20 kills.
Howard libero Lizzie Berg served a match-high six aces and added 20 digs.