Eight volleyball teams remain in Maryland's high school season, and Westminster is one of them.
And when the Owls take the court Saturday night at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum, they’ll be competing in the final match of the season. Quite the cap to an already solid year for Westminster (17-1), which takes on Northern-Calvert in the Class 3A final at 7:30 p.m.
“They’re excited and starting to realize how much of an honor it is to, not only represent Westminster High School, but to get to play in a state championship match,” Owls coach Ed Benish said. “We’re one of the last sports teams in Maryland playing right now.”
The Carroll County and 3A West Region champions ride a seven-match win streak into Saturday’s final, where they’ll face an opponent that took out the reigning state champs in four sets in the semifinals. Northern-Calvert (18-1) is in the state finals for the 14th time in program history; Westminster is making its first championship appearance.
The Patriots outlasted Atholton in the state semis behind senior hitter Amanda Chew, who racked up 26 kills and led the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference in several offensive categories this fall.
Westminster took care of Towson in a semifinal sweep — their 12th of the year — and the Owls pulled away after capturing a competitive first set. Benish said grabbing momentum early in matches has been one of his team’s skills this year.
Benish said the Owls also did a good job adjusting to new surroundings. Westminster played at Ritchie in 2014, its only other state tournament trip, and lost to Glenelg in four sets. Sarah O’Donnell, a senior outside hitter on this year’s squad, is the lone player who made that trip three years ago.
Winning Monday’s state semifinal put Westminster at ease, its fifth-year coach said.
“It will make adapting to Northern a little bit smoother,” Benish said. “We can really focus on ourselves.”
Jilienne Widener paces Westminster’s offense. The sophomore outside hitter averages 5.7 kills per set, and hammered out 19 against Towson. Widener added six digs on defense, and five aces.
O’Donnell averages 1.8 kills and Zoe Costley, a junior middle hitter, is at 1.7. Setter Emily Bartlett, another junior, hands out 9.1 assists per set.
Benish said the enormity of playing in a state championship match, and the final volleyball tilt of the year, likely won’t sway the Owls from their objective.
“I think we’re looking at it as, it’s another game that happens to be the final one,” Benish said. “We’re just staying true to ourselves … I know that they’re going to leave it all out there on the floor.”