Volleyball: Depth, focus carrying Westminster into Class 3A state semifinals

Volleyball: Depth, focus carrying Westminster into Class 3A state semifinals
Westminster's Tatum Keck runs down the line of her teammates for player introductions prior to the Class 3A state final against Northern-Calvert at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Nov. 18, 2017. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When Westminster takes its second trip in as many years to University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum on Wednesday, the Owls say they’re out to settle “unfinished business.”

If they achieve their goals, it will likely be thanks to an all-around effort — something Westminster has been focused on since reaching the Class 3A state championship match a year ago.


The Owls (16-1) clinched their second consecutive 3A West title Friday by sweeping North Hagerstown at home, and they’re preparing for a showdown with unbeaten Atholton (17-0) on Wednesday night at 6 in the state semifinals.

Casual volleyball fans might point to senior setter Emily Bartlett and junior outside hitter Jilienne Widener as keys to Westminster’s success, and with good reason. Widener averages 5.8 kills per set, tied for the most in Carroll, while Bartlett’s 9.9 assists per set lead the county.

But the Owls also possess depth, and they’ve been showcasing it a lot in 2018.

There’s senior middle hitter Tatum Keck, who began the season splitting time with teammates but has emerged as a regular. Keck has 51 kills in 32 sets for 1.6 per set.

And junior defensive specialist Kasey Thomas, who plays libero and leads the Owls with 152 digs (2.8 per set).

Senior Shelby Cheuvront chips in on defense. So does Jackie Karcz, a sophomore, who excels in serving (86.4 percent) along with Cheuvront (94.8).

Zoe Costley, another senior middle hitter, averages 2.2 kills per set and gives Westminster more size along the front line.

“I think we're all really accepting our roles this year,” Thomas said. “We’re really putting … our best foot forward on what we can do for the team. I think that’s really helping us all, just working well as one unit.”

Being able to count on as many as 10 different players is an asset for Owls coach Ed Benish, and it showed Friday in the regional final. North High came with 10 players on its roster and had three reserves, only two of which saw court time, in Westminster’s 25-9, 25-20, 25-14 victory.

The Owls, who earned a share of this year’s Carroll County Athletic League title with rival Winters Mill, have won 12 consecutive matches. They’ve dropped a mere one set since losing to the Falcons 3-2 on Sept. 24.

“They’re buying into their roles, and it really starts in practice,” Benish said. “There are more girls that don’t play that could. We joke all the time after games, I say, ‘Let’s celebrate this win, but you know what I’m looking forward to the most.’ And they’re all like, ‘Practice.’

“It’s my opportunity to teach, but it’s also their opportunity to get better.”

Keck said her dedication in those practices helped her establish a bigger role with the team as the season progressed. Winning matches and championships doesn’t hurt either, Keck said, and the Owls have formed a closer bond thanks to their success.

“It’s really nice to be tight like that,” she said. “I had to push myself in practice and try my best, go for everything. It came from practice and from pushing myself there.”


Keck called Friday’s win one of her most memorable in volleyball, and Thomas agreed. Now they have a chance to collect two more and capture the program’s first state championship.

Westminster saw Atholton at its Mason-Dixon Invitational tournament back in September, and the Owls faced the Raiders in a preseason scrimmage. Benish said the teams are familiar with each other, and he expects a battle.

Westminster's Kasey Thomas serves to North Hagerstown during their Class 3A West Region final Nov. 9, 2018.
Westminster's Kasey Thomas serves to North Hagerstown during their Class 3A West Region final Nov. 9, 2018. (Ken Koons/Carroll County Times)

Atholton took care of Northeast on Friday to win the 3A East final in dominant fashion, 25-3, 25-10, 25-3. The Raiders have won three regional titles in a row, and claimed the 3A state title in 2016.

“We need to play clean volleyball, and always have that ‘next point’ mentality,” Keck said. “Clean up every little detail.”

Added Thomas: “Every time I think of Ritchie, I think of unfinished business from last year. I’m just so excited to get back in there and have this experience and opportunity again.”