Earlier this week in practice, Notre Dame Prep coach Jim Isphording asked his players to raise their hands if they were on the team last year. Six did.
"I asked them if they remembered how bad it felt to lose in the championship game last year," Isphording said.
Fortunately for Isphording and his team, they didn't need to relive the experience.
The Blazers (11-8) got a stellar performance from All-Metro outside hitter Brooke Newell to upset No. 3 St. Paul's, (15-2), 20-25, 25-11, 25-23, 25-13, and capture the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship before a large crowd at Roland Park on Saturday.
Newell finished the match with 18 kills and three blocks.
The championship was the second for NDP, which also won the title in 2013.
St. Paul's had beaten NDP twice this season, but each time the Blazers were without key players because of injuries.
"We had nothing to lose," said Newell, who missed four games this year because of an injury. "The way our season was going, I really didn't expect to be here."
For a while, it looked like the ending wouldn't be a good one for NDP. The Gators, who had gone undefeated in IAAM play this season, built up an 11-4 lead in the first set. Notre Dame Prep made a run toward the end of the match but could never get closer than four before falling 25-20.
The second set looked like a reverse of the first, with NDP rushing out to 16-7 lead. The Blazers were never threatened in the set and coasted to a 25-11 win.
The third set was the best of the match. Notre Dame Prep held a five-point lead, before St. Paul's rallied to finally tie the score at 14-14 on a Jayla Tucker kill.
The teams traded points until a tip over the net by Sarah Rose gave the Blazers a 24-23 lead. After a defensive error by St. Paul's, NDP took the set, 25-23.
Notre Dame Prep mad the final set look easy, jumping out to a 14-7 lead before a relatively easy 25-13 win.
"We worked in practice to shut down Jayla [Tucker]," said Isphording of St. Paul's best player. "When you do that you throw her off her game a little, and I thought we got better at defending her throughout the match."
Tucker finished with 20 kills for the match.
"They had more depth than we did," St. Paul's coach Kelli Wilkinson said. "They outplayed us, simple as that. I told my team that one loss doesn't define us. Our 15-2 record was unprecedented."
Maryvale Prep capped off a 13-5 season with a dominant performance, topping St. Mary's (14-5), 25-15, 25-22, 25-20. Senior Brooke Franklin led the Lions with 15 kills.
"I feel like the Chicago Cubs," Maryvale coach Missy Little said. "This is the first time that Maryvale has ever won a volleyball championship, and now we get to put a banner up in the gym. There were times when we lost the momentum today, but we got it right back. I'm so proud of these girls."
The victory was Maryvale's first volleyball title, and it would have been the Saints first, too.
"Maryvale put up a good fight," Saints coach Rebekah Kruder said. "It took us a game to get used to being here, and the atmosphere. We settled down after that and played a lot better."
The Saints, who defeated top-seed Annapolis Area Christian 3-1 in the semifinals, came out flat and looked a little lost as Maryvale coasted to a 25-15 win in the first set.
The second set was the best of the match for St. Mary's. The Saints started to pull away in the middle of the set, eventually building a six-point lead at 17-11. After a Maryvale timeout, the Lions came roaring back. Behind the serving of Maryvale's Hannah Laue, the Lions scored ten straight points to turn a 19-12 St. Mary's lead into a 22-19 deficit for the Saints.
"I thought we played them a lot better in the regular season," said Poss of the Saints 3-2 at Maryvale on Sept. 14. "We just kind of fell apart a little today, and you could see them jelling as the match went on."
The Saints managed to cut the margin to 22-20 before two kills by Maryvale's Brooke Franklin (15 kills) and a St. Mary's unforced error finished the set with a 25-22 Saints loss.
St. Mary's was competitive in the third set, taking a 13-12 lead on a tap over the net by Allie Cherry. Again, though, it was Maryvale that went on a run. The Lions took the lead for good, 15-14, on an ace by Kayla Koch, and outscored the Saints 10-6 the rest of the way to take the match with a 25-20 third-set win.
While disappointed in the result, Kruder said the experience was a great one, and one the Saints should cherish.
"It's a mix [of joy and sadness] for me," Kruder said. "I am so very proud of these girls. We've never been here before, and that's what I told them. They should be proud of themselves, because no one can ever change that."
St. Frances (14-1) got 14 kills from freshman Angel Reese to win it's first volleyball title, defeating Friends School (11-4), 25-23, 20-25, 26-24, 25-19.
The Panthers lone loss of the season came to B Conference Institute of Notre Dame.