Playing at University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum isn’t enough anymore for Westminster’s volleyball program.

The Owls are eager to make their claim as one of the top teams in the state, and in recent years they have been compiling a healthy resume.


Four years ago, they won their first regional championship. Last fall, Westminster captured another one and played in the state final. This season, the Owls added another Class 3A West crown, which meant a return visit to Ritchie.

Atholton prevented Westminster from making it back-to-back trips to the state final, however, with a 24-26, 25-21, 25-20, 25-21 victory in the semifinals.

The Owls (16-2) fell for the first time since Sept. 24, and had their 12-match winning streak halted. But they handed the Raiders (18-0) their first lost set since Sept. 25 thanks to a strong start, one that had Westminster’s players feeling good.

“I think we came in equally prepared as we did last year,” senior hitter Zoe Costley said about her team’s mood coming into the the match. “The whole team was fired up and ready to play, and we were all excited. Obviously, the outcome didn’t [go] as we wanted it to, but I think that all of us are just grateful that we were able to come here again and have this experience again.”

Athtolon regrouped after the first set and changed its defensive scheme to limit Jilienne Widener’s damage. The Owls junior hitter had her way in the early going, and finished with a match-high 25 kills, but the Raiders got into their rhythm the rest of the way.

Senior hitter Lisa Zoch led Atholton to its second-set win, and 6-foot-2 junior Chanelle Smith anchored her team’s blocking up front. Westminster led 7-3 in the third set only to have the Raiders ride senior libero Elise Park on defense and take command.

“They definitely were [one] of the best defensive teams we have played,” Widener said.

Westminster didn’t waver though — the Owls stayed closed in the fourth set and led 14-13 after Widener pounded the ball into an open spot on Athtolon’s side of the court. The Raiders answered with a kill from Wande Sogbesan, a senior middle blocker, and regained the lead one point later.

Atholton never trailed again, although Westminster drew even at 15-15 and 16-16.

Atholton's Lisa Zoch, right, tries to put a kill past Westminster teammates Emily Reisner (14) and Emliy Bartlett during a Class 3A state semifinal volleyball match at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Nov. 14, 2018.
Atholton's Lisa Zoch, right, tries to put a kill past Westminster teammates Emily Reisner (14) and Emliy Bartlett during a Class 3A state semifinal volleyball match at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Nov. 14, 2018. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Jessica Humphries put the Raiders up 23-20 with a nice cross-court kill, but the Owls responded on junior Emily Stauder’s kill. Sogbesan posted another kill to set up match point, however, and Zoch sealed it with an ace.

Zoch had 13 kills, a team high, while Smith totaled eight kills and six blocks. Atholton coach Larry Schofield said Westminster’s serving got the best of his team in the first set, but it didn’t carry over.

“It’s live and die by that sword,” Schofield said. “They had us on our heels in that first set.”

Schofield praised his players for staying loose — they danced and sang along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” during the break after the second set — and said that focus led to the victory.

Westminster didn’t seem unnerved Wednesday, either. It’s just that a few mistakes wound up being costly in certain stretches, said Owls coach Ed Benish.


“Not at any point in that entire match did we give in,” Benish said. “That’s exactly what we talked about coming into this match at practices, and I thought that we did exactly what our game plan was mentally. It’s a sport, it has got to go one way or the other.”

Benish loses seven seniors from this year’s squad, led by Costley and setter Emily Barlett — she surpassed 1,500 career assists earlier this season. Westminster showcased its depth throughout the fall and each senior pitched in.

Bartlett and Costley were joined by Shelby Cheuvront, Emily Hynson, Tatum Keck, Brooke Leppo, and Laken Neff.

But the Owls will undoubtedly be charting another course for College Park beginning next August.

“We’ve definitely made history these past couple years,” Widener said. “We want to keep building the program for years in the future, and I think we’ve done a really good job doing that.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Tim Schwartz contributed to this article.