Westminster first-year coach Evan Frock has had a front-row seat for enough standout performances from outside hitter Jilienne Widener this fall that nothing at this point surprises him.
So as his senior captain rattled off kills on four of the first six points of the Owls’ 3A state quarterfinal match against Reservoir on Friday evening, Frock was largely unfazed.
“With Jilienne, I honestly come in expecting it to always be one of those nights. So a start like that, well that’s nothing new for her,” Frock said. “She’s up over 1,300 kills for her career … it’s pretty much always her night.”
Building on her fast start, Widener finished with a game-high 27 kills as the go-to-player for a Westminster team that answered every Gators’ push with one of its own en route to a three-set sweep (25-21, 25-18, 25-12). The Owls advance to face Northern (Calvert) in the state semifinals Nov. 14 at Ritchie Coliseum.
It’s the third straight appearance in the state final four for Westminster, which lost in the semifinals last year and in the finals in 2017. Still searching for the program’s first state championship, Frock said there’s no lack of motivation right now for his group.
“I’ve been an assistant for two years before taking over this year, so I’ve seen the journey throughout and these seniors really, really want it,” he said.
While Westminster (17-0) ended up winning in straight sets, Reservoir (11-6) made the Owls work for it. In fact, during the middle of the opening set, the Gators rattled off a string of four straight points to take a 17-16 lead.
But Frock quickly called timeout, and Westminster answered with four straight points of its own to take a lead it never lost the rest of the game.
“I think it was a matter of getting them back to how we play volleyball, being in system all the time,” he said. “All we needed was one pass, set and hit and we were back with the momentum in our favor.”
Reservoir also had leads in the early stages of the second and third sets, but every time the Gators appeared to be establishing any kind of control, Westminster responded with either a big kill from Widener or a timely block from Cassi Shields (4 blocks), Ella Keck (4) or Emily Riesner (3).
“Their blocking game was just so much stronger than we had seen from anyone else and that can take a toll on your hitters. Then obviously, when you also have a hitter as a strong as [Widener] is, sometimes there is nothing you can do defend against it,” Reservoir coach Carole Ferrante said. “We prepared for her, but we just couldn’t slow her down.”
Westminster broke open the second set with an 8-1 run, then used a 10-1 spurt in the third to take control of that set as well. Other standouts in the victory for the Owls were Emily Stauder (26 assists) and Kasey Thomas (14 digs).
Reservoir was led in the loss by Mayah Tucker (6 kills, 1 block kill, 6 digs), Kayla Browne (1 ace, 7 kills), Gabby Allen (1 ace, 9 digs) and Tatiana Hamilton (1 kill, 16 assists, 3 digs). And, while the season ends for the Gators, Ferrante had nothing but positives to say about her group that won the program’s first region title since 2007.
Returning to the team this fall, Ferrante said she was overwhelmed by the buy-in from the players and school community.
“I cannot tell you the pride that I feel being the coach of these girls. There has been so much inconsistency — my seniors have had four different varsity coaches — but they have jumped on board from day one,” Ferrante said. “It has been fun and some of the best relationship-building that I have ever had in this building because they just want to be good again. They want to bring pride back to Reservoir volleyball and we went a long way toward doing that this season.”
Century sweeps Eastern Tech
Caroline Mastria paced the Knights’ offense with 11 kills and Eva Brandt collected 10 in a 25-10, 25-5, 25-8 victory to win their 2A state quarterfinal in Eldersburg.
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Ali Whitworth handed out 22 assists for Century (15-2), which totaled 18 aces as a team. The Knights advance to the state semifinals Nov. 13 at Ritchie Coliseum to take on Rising Sun.