ELDERSBURG — Evan Frock used his first timeout early in Thursday’s match between Westminster and Liberty, with the Lions off to a sizzling start and the visiting Owls seemingly stuck in neutral.
Frock, the Owls’ first-year coach, knew his team’s energy level needed a boost. Westminster defeated Century on Tuesday, the only team that has taken a set from the Owls this fall. That meant a win Thursday would secure the Carroll County Athletic League title.
“Coming down from that match, it’s tough for any team to come out ... especially on a half-day of school,” Frock said. “But I think our strong, consistent play kind of won the night.”
The Owls gathered themselves, even after giving up another point coming out of the timeout on a big block at the net. They went from down by five to leading by six before Liberty asked for a break in the action. The sweep was on, 25-18, 25-13, 25-15, and Westminster took claim to a third consecutive county championship.
The Owls improved to 11-0, 10-0 in the CCAL. They have two county matches remaining in the regular season, but everyone else in Carroll has two or more county losses.
Jilienne Widener, a senior hitter, led the way for Westminster with 20 kills and eight digs, and libero Kasey Thomas added seven digs. Junior hitter Sabina Rinda added six digs, five kills, and three aces.
Frock said being able to rely on four seniors and six juniors goes a long way when things aren’t in rhythm on the court. It usually takes one big kill, or a balanced rally, to get the Owls going, Frock said.
“I think we were ... not getting the energy up at first,” Rinda said. “But we usually get ourselves together at one point.”
It came in that first set, when Westminster settled in and went from 7-2 behind to building an 18-12 lead. The Owls jumped ahead 21-11 in the second set, and the Lions (3-8, 3-7) had to call another timeout.
Widener and Rinda, with help from sophomore Cassi Shields and junior Ella Keck, found holes cross-court to keep Liberty on the defense. The Owls’ offense got a combined 32 assists from senior Emily Stauder (19) and junior Alexis Troy (13). Troy also had four digs.
Liberty countered with 12 digs from junior defender Lindsay Gaiser, six assists from freshman setter Paige Coulson, and five kills from freshman middle hitter Sarah Hart.
Vicki Williams, the Lions’ first-year coach, said she was pleased with her team’s aggressiveness during the match. Frock noted it too, part of the reason he felt the need to slow things down early in the match.
Westminster has three matches next week, against Hereford, Winters Mill, and South Carroll, in preparation for the regional playoffs. Energy levels will likely be a point of emphasis for a team with state championship aspirations.
“We get excited for each other, we bring our own energy,” Widener said. “It’s so easy to create energy. You get one kill, you can turn the match around.”
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JV result: Westminster, 2-1.