Volleyball: 'Process' leads Owls to Class 3A West championship

Pat Stoetzer
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

Westminster’s lone volleyball championship banner inside the school’s gymnasium is a white rectangular sign that hangs from the upper deck railing, near midcourt, behind the benches.

It’s from the Owls’ regional title won in 2014, and it lists the players on the roster from a team that made an exciting playoff run after a sub-par regular season. That’s not the case with this year’s Westminster’s squad, which lost just once during the fall and rolled through its Class 3A West competition.

The latest victory came Friday in the regional championship match against Tuscarora, a 25-17, 25-20, 25-21 sweep in Westminster’s gym that sent the home team to the state tournament for a second time in four seasons.

The county and region champion Owls (16-1) may unfurl another banner, but don’t expect them to talk too much about it.

“Counties, states, was never a goal,” coach Ed Benish said. “That has never been put anywhere. We focus on the process to get to that goal. Being a great teammate, getting better every day … and the results happen.”

Westminster dispatched a quality opponent in Tuscarora (14-3) behind 19 kills, 10 digs, and two blocks from sophomore hitter Jilienne Widener. Sarah O’Donnell and Zoe Costley had seven kills apiece, and Lindsey Campbell added five.

Widener strikes a formidable pose when she’s near the net, but Westminster utilized her along the back row just as much against the Titans.

“Her defense is stellar,” said junior setter Emily Bartlett. “It really makes my job easy.”

Bartlett handed out 40 assists and added 11 digs, and she was part of Westminster’s rally to establish momentum early in the match. Tuscarora led 8-4 in the first set, and the Titans’ success forced Westminster to focus harder on its strategy.

Westminster grabbed an 11-10 lead when Bartlett stepped in to serve. Six straight points — an ace from Bartlett, two kills from Widener, and one from Campbell highlighted the run — made it 17-10, and the Owls struck first.

“Once we got the momentum our energy really picked up,” Costley said. “That helps us a lot, just having our whole team on the same page.”

Westminster led 21-11 in the second set before Tuscarora got hot and reeled off five points. Devyn Jacobson had a pair of kills down the stretch, and the Titans started matching the Owls with long volleys. Westminster held on, however, and took command of the match.

Costley won the second set with a tip-kill, and notched another late in the third set to make it 20-15. Widener had three more kills, the last of which set up match point at 24-17.

Tuscarora staved off four straight chances, but when a Titans serve landed out of bounds Westminster finally celebrated.

Jacobson and Julia Slivka had nine kills each for Tuscarora, and Quinlin Gray totaled 20 assists. It wasn’t enough to knock off Westminster, however.

The Owls will face Towson, the 3A North champion, on Tuesday in the state semifinals at University of Maryland’s Richie Coliseum. Widener is undoubtedly Westminster’s focal point, but Benish praised the entire squad for doing its part to reach this point in the season.

“We just showed how much we focus on the little things in practice every day,” the coach said. “This championship is possible with every other member that’s not on the floor during the game, in practice every day. We have some great bench players that don’t see the floor, that push our starters. I tell them all the time, ‘You need to wait for your moment,’ because it’s going to come.

“That’s what I love about this team, is that they trust each other so much. When they go in, they believe in their preparation.”

pat.stoetzer@carrollcountytimes.com

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