It's said that great teams must overcome adversity to stand alone. If that's the definition of a champion, then St. Paul's has earned its mettle.
The No. 10 Gators (15-4) overcame injuries, a tough schedule, and a scrappy Mount de Sales (11-8) team to capture the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A conference volleyball title with a 25-21, 25-23, 25-16 win at Roland Park Saturday.
The victory gave the Gators their first title since 2007.
St. Paul's entered the season as a powerhouse, but lost All-Metro performer Jillian Randolph to a knee injury in the second game. Early-season losses to Arundel, Broadneck and Severna Park also took their toll, as did two regular season losses to Notre Dame Prep.
Through all of that, St. Paul's ended up exactly where it wanted to be; even if the road was a little rockier than first expected.
“Losing a great player like Jillian really hurt, but we proved we were more than one player,” said Gators coach Kelli Wilkinson. “We survived an early rollercoaster start to our season, but we peaked at the right time.”
Mount de Sales, which upset top seed and undefeated Notre Dame Prep in the semifinals, was certainly a game opponent. Still, each time the Sailors would make a run, St. Paul's had an answer.
“Losing Jillian was huge, but we played for her,” said senior defensive specialist Amanda Blank (19 assists, 3 aces, 8 digs). “We came together to overcome that, and we learned to trust each other. I think we made her proud tonight.
Wilkinson let Randolph, the team captain, accept the championship trophy. It was a moment that Randolph and her teammates will never forget.
“When I think back on this team, the one thing I'll remember is how we came back when everyone told us our championship run was done,” said senior Cassidy Crossland (4 kills). “These girls are like my family, and I couldn't be prouder of our team.”
In the B conference championship, Roland Park won its first volleyball title in ten years when they upset top-seeded and defending champion Mercy, 25-23, 25-12, 27-25. It was the Reds' first title since 2003, when they competed in the C conference.
Roland Park (16-4) won the title in dramatic fashion, surprising the Magic (14-3) in the first set, dominating the second one, and staging a crazy comeback in the third.
The Reds found themselves down 17-8 in the third set when coach Shawn Slater called time out.
“I told them that if we could come back from this, we would leave no doubt as to who are the champions,” he said. “They left no question.”
Roland Park immediately cut the margin to four, 19-15, then rallied again to tie the match, 25-25. Behind the serving of sophomore libero Ariana Rodriguez, they scored the next two points and set off a wild celebration in their home gym.
In the first game of the day, undefeated and top-seeded St. John's of Frederick (15-0) defended their championship from last year and held off a stubborn rally from third-seeded Mount Carmel (16-5) to capture the crown, 25-21, 25-18, 16-25, 26-24, in the C conference championship.
“We knew they'd be tough,” said Mount Carmel coach Nicole Reinhold. “We took them to four [sets] last time we played. We have a young team, and this was a great learning experience for us. Hopefully we'll be back here next year.”
(at Roland Park)
St. John's d Mt. Carmel 25-21, 25-18, 16-25, 26-24
Roland Park d Mercy 25-23, 25-12, 27-25
No. 10 St. Paul's d Mount de Sales 25-21, 25-23, 25-16Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun