Bel Air brought a high-powered offense and a ton of confidence to Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum for the state Class 3A volleyball semifinals Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the results were no different from last year's, when their state championship dream ended in the same round.
The Bobcats (15-3) ran into an organized, experienced and well-prepared team from La Plata (17-0) in Charles County and fell, 25-16, 25-20, 25-15.
The Warriors did a great job of neutralizing Bel Air's Celeste Roland (nine kills). The senior still was the focal point of the Bel Air offense, but many of her kill attempts were blocked at the net. The Bobcats also had trouble getting points off La Plata serves.
"Our serve receive really hurt us tonight," Roland said. "Our job was to get the passes up and get the ball to Amanda [Rodriguez] so she could set us. Instead of hitting the serves up, we were hitting them down. We just made too many mistakes."
The Bobcats lost in similar fashion last year to North Hagerstown, the eventual state champion.
The Warriors will face Damascus of Montgomery County, a five-set winner over Glenelg in the first semifinal, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the Class 3A championship.
The Warriors dominated the first set, taking a lead they never relinquished at 3-2. The Bobcats cut the lead to 13-12, on a kill by Roland. From there, La Plata scored 11 of the next 15 points to take the set 25-16.
Bel Air played its best volleyball of the night in the second set. The Bobcats used an ace by Rodriguez to take a 16-15 lead, but the Warriors got kills by Maggie Lavery (15 kills) and Caitlin Simmons, then an ace by Mia Griffiths to take a 19-16 lead. Bel Air could get no closer than three after that before dropping the set 25-20.
"We played with more confidence in the second set," said Rodriguez (12 assists, four aces). "We were getting to balls and playing better, but we couldn't get over the hump. They are a great team."
La Plata was in total control of the third set. The Warriors raced to a 7-0 lead, but Bel Air fought back, using a kill by Rein Hachmann to cut the lead to 7-4. From that point, La Plata cruised to a 25-15 win to take the match.
"Volleyball is a mental game," Rodriguez said. "Once we got down, there was just no way we could get back up. The mentally tough teams are the teams that push through those moments and win. We weren't that team."
The loss ends the high school careers of Rodriguez and Roland, both of whom are seniors. The duo helped Bel Air re-establish itself in volleyball, and they will be hard to replace.
"It still hasn't hit me that it's over," Roland said. "We were hoping for a better ending, and it's hard to go out like this."