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In his 19 years as head coach of the Western Tech volleyball team, Eric Jett has taken a team to the University of Maryland College Park for the state tournament semifinals four times.

Only once did the Wolverines (15-3) advance to the finals and that came last year when they defeated Henry E. Lackey in the semifinals.

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The other three times Western Tech was eliminated by Smithsburg and the latest loss came on Nov. 11 when they fell to the Leopards (11-8) in the Class 1A state semifinals.

Smithsburg defeated Western Tech 25-11, 25-23, 25-19 in the Class 1A state semifinals and will be going for the school’s 14th state championship on Saturday, Nov. 16 against Patterson Mill.

Sydney Hammond (seven kills), Kylie Snyder and Megan Domenico (six kills each) and Morgan Domenico (four kills) led a balanced hitting attack for the Leopards.

Setters Morgan Domenico (12) and Hailey Daniels (10) combined for 22 assists and Hammond led the team with seven digs.

Western Tech (15-3) was led by the hitting of Rachael Durham and Avaion Barry (six kills each). Sheri Adewumi added five kills and setter Beatrice Daudelin dished out 21 assists.

Barry added three aces for the Wolverines who were making their third straight trip to the final four.

“I’m incredibly proud of this team. A number of them have been on my varsity squad since they were 10th graders and they’ve done everything that you could ask from a volleyball perspective,” Jett said. “We feel like family.”

Durham, who added four digs, is one of eight seniors on the roster along with Barry, Daudelin, Adewumi, Anisah Weaver (four kills), Keiran Ray, Kaiya Fox and Favor Ujoatung, spoke about where she thought the team would go when they were sophomores.

“I would say, ‘You are crazy’ and would be really shocked to see where we are now and how far we have come as a team, as far as like just knowing each other, communication, trusting each other and being as close as we are on and off the court,” Durham said. “I wouldn’t believe it, but it’s crazy to watch it and it’s crazy when you feel the love and you can really be a part of it.”

The Wolverines never led in the first and third sets, but they pushed the Leopards to the limit in the second set.

A kill by Durham and ace from Jazmyne Carr pulled the Wolverines within one, 6-5, early in the first set, but that was the closest they would get.

The Leopards won nine of the next 10 points and coasted to victory.

Western Tech missed three serves and had nine hitting errors in the first set.

The second set was tied 10 times and had five lead changes and Daudelin felt serving was the difference.

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“We definitely did start off slow, but I think our serving really gets us going a lot,” Daudelin said. “Serving is definitely something to focus on, we definitely encourage each other like so much on the line, and once we get a run going we can build off of that, so that game we were able to really take a little point and turn it into a whole lot more than that.”

The Wolverines trailed 17-13 before a two-handed push kill by Ray to an empty spot earned a side out.

With Weaver on the service line, the Wolverines took advantage of three errors and a block by the 5-foot-3 Adewumi to forge ahead, 18-17.

After Smithsburg tied it, 18-18, Daudelin’s quick set to Barry in the middle ended with a kill and 19-18 lead.

Smithsburg tied it again on a kill by Hammond, but a missed serve and net violation gave Western Tech a 21-19 lead and forced the Leopards to call their only time out of the match.

“I think I said in the huddle, it was 21-19 and I said we tie it,” Smithsburg coach Rachel Brashear said. “With these girls, we have a lot of younger players on the team I kind of make little goals like let’s be the first to 19, let’s be the first to 23, lets be the first to 25 and that way you know we keep them focused.”

A tip for a kill by freshman Snyder earned a side out and back-to-back kills by sophomore Megan Domenico gave the Leopards a 22-21 lead.

Western Tech freshman Imani Ward (four kills) got a kill to tie the score at 22-all, but Morgan Domenico answered for a one-point lead.

The teams traded errors and Smithsburg led 24-23 with Durham on the line.

Snyder ended the pivotal set with a kill from the middle and she thrives on those big points.

“I like when it comes down to that. I am always like in it, I’m like, ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball, give me the ball,’ because I have that motivation that keeps me going and I just always want the ball,” said Snyder, noting her swing wasn’t a full one. “I was kind of just placing it because it was a little off the net.”

Western Tech lost six of the first seven points in the final set, but managed to claw back to within 20-17, thanks to balanced hitting and solid play in the middle from Adewumi that opened up the outside for Durham, Barry, Weaver and Ray.

“I think Jett wanted me and Bea to get in synch and when me and Bea get in synch we also get points and then it opens up the outside so they can get points as well,” Adewumi said.

But, Smithsburg squelched the rally and won five of the final seven points.

The loss concluded a three-year stretch for the seniors, who went 47-9 during that span and Barry was one who couldn’t hang her head.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” she said. “It was the best time I could possibly ask for, literally just being able to grow with everybody and see how we got this far this year, I was just happy to be with everyone and just continue to play volleyball and just enjoy my senior season.”

Jett echoed those sentiments.

“It’s a team that I am immensely proud of and I’m going to miss them a lot,” he said.

Smithsburg coach Brashear, in her 16th season, improved her career record to 242-65 and was happy to get past the Wolverines.

“Hats off to our opponents because they scrapped, they sent a lot of really hard balls at us and they served the ball tough at us,” she said. “I mean, they gave us everything we wanted tonight, but I couldn’t be more proud of my girls.”

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