Volleyball: Owls sweep Towson, one win from first state title

Westminster sophomore Jilienne Widener talks about reaching the Class 3A state championship game.

Westminster volleyball coach Ed Benish said he felt a certain confidence when his Owls hit the floor against Towson in a Class 3A state semifinal Tuesday night.

“This group has been pretty consistent,” Benish said. “That’s why we have been successful from Day One.”


Towson saw that swagger and talent up close, and Westminster made the Generals' trip to the final four a short one.

A mere 63 minutes after opening introductions, the Owls celebrated a 25-22, 25-12, 25-15 victory at University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum to send them to their first appearance in state championship game.

Westminster (17-1) will face either Northern-Calvert or Atholton on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. back in College Park.

“When you work for something for three months, it feels really rewarding to see the benefits of that, and to really put it together,” said Benish, the Owls’ fifth-year coach whose team lost in the state semifinals in 2014. “I thought we played pretty well. A lot of these girls have never played in an arena this big. We had composure. It will prepare us well for Saturday.”

It was another vintage performance from Jilienne Widener, who has been recruited by Florida, LSU and Long Beach State. The 6-foot sophomore outside hitter finished with 19 kills, six digs, and five aces.

Widener produced 10 kills in the second set alone, including six straight at one point.

“She is an incredible athlete,” Towson coach Emily Berman said. “She wasn’t perfect, but she made us look like a JV squad.”

Widener got some help from her teammates.

Westminster received solid performances from senior outside hitter Sarah O’Donnell (eight kills, seven digs, four aces), junior setter Emily Bartlett (29 assists, five aces, five digs) and senior libero Hannah Jones (seven digs, five aces).

Senior Sarah Mandreja led Towson with 9 kills. The Generals (17-3) jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first set, but the advantage didn’t last long.

Westminster used an 11-2 run behind the serving of Bartlett and the net play of Elena Hess to go ahead 12-4.

The Generals closed to within 13-8, and later 23-18.

Benish called a timeout when Logan Marsh’s dink cut the lead to five a second time, but it didn’t slow down Towson’s momentum. Towson ran off four straight points to trim to margin to 23-22, but eventually an ace from O’Donnell finished the Generals off.

Westminster got off to a better start in the second set, going ahead 3-1, but Towson rebounded to lead 5-4.


The Owls, however, used a 13-2 run on its way to taking the game. Bartlett had 13 aces and Widener’s kill won the second set.

Towson didn’t go quietly in the third, though. The Owls jumping to a 7-2 lead made a difference, however, as Jones capped that run with three straight aces.

“Everyday, we come to practice, work hard and focus on what we have to do” Widener said. “Nothing was handed to us. We are just going to keep working and grinding every single day.”

Westminster has a chance to win the county’s 13th state championship in volleyball, and the fifth since 2007.

“I’m super excited to advance to the state final,” Widener said. “We are a pretty special group, and if we keep working hard we have a good chance to take a state title.”