MANCHESTER — The first month of the season finds Westminster’s volleyball team in line to capture a third consecutive Carroll County Athletic League championship.
No Carroll team has three-peated in a decade, but these Owls aren’t focused solely on winning another county title. Not with a program that has three state tournament appearances in the past five seasons, with back-to-back trips in 2017 and 2018. Westminster is looking for its first state crown, a feat the Owls’ veterans want more than anything.
“From being where we’ve been, we know what we have to do to get back there,” said senior Kasey Thomas, a first-team all-county libero last season. “We’ve really been pushing ourselves in practice, and just focused on what we can do to get better, what we can do to just keep our level building so that when we [face] other teams we know that we are prepared to do our best.”
Thomas and the Owls took care of Manchester Valley on Monday in straight sets (25-12, 25-10, 25-9) and remained undefeated through the midway point of the CCAL schedule. Westminster is 8-0 (7-0 CCAL) with a mere one lost set so far.
The Owls lost a handful of seniors from their 2018 team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals, including a first-team all-county setter (Emily Bartlett), standout hitters in Zoe Costley and Tatum Keck, and defensive specialists in Shelby Cheuvront and Laken Neff. Westminster hasn’t missed a beat, and first-year coach Evan Frock said a heavy dose of unity is a big reason why.
“That’s really what makes this program great,” Frock said. “We have 13 girls on the roster that really push each other.”
Frock pointed to sophomore Ellie Yaider as a prime example. The defender might not get a lot of court time right now during matches, Frock said, but Yaider does all she can to make life tough on her front-line teammates at practice. Count Jilienne Widener as one of those hitters who has a better game because of the intense intra-squad sessions, she said.
“When we’re in a game, we’re ready for no matter what’s on the other side of the net,” said Widener, who led the way Monday with 16 kills, seven digs, and six aces.
Frock utilizes a pair of setters in junior Alexis Troy and senior Emily Stauder, who recently returned from injury. Troy and Stauder combined for 24 assists against Man Valley (1-8, 0-8), and Troy added four aces.
Frock praised Thomas, Widener, Stauder, and defender Sarah Anderson, his four seniors, for their leadership, but Westminster often gets contributions from a balanced bunch. Emily Riesner, a junior middle blocker, posted six kills Monday. Frock said Sabina Rinda, a junior outside hitter, is one the Owls’ best in terms of hitting percentage.
“We can always keep growing, we can always keep getting better,” Thomas said. “Through this next month of getting to playoffs, I think we’re going to be focusing on technique and what we can do to make ourselves personally better.”
Man Valley got six digs apiece from senior Callie Houck and junior Elle Hale, while Nataeya Dickerson, another senior, collected four kills. Sophomore Lauren Brynes added four digs for the Mavericks, who dropped their sixth in a row. The Mavs host Century on Thursday.
It’s the Knights (8-1, 7-1 CCAL) that were responsible for Westminster’s lone blemish when the county foes met Sept. 19. The Owls won in four sets in that first meeting, and they travel to Eldersburg for the rematch Oct. 15.
Westminster has only two home matches remaining in the regular season, and Widener and Thomas said they’re doing their best to savor their final run as high school teammates.
“I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it,” Widener said.
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NOTE: Manchester Valley won the JV match in three sets.