Centennial coach Michael Bossom guessed that when two teams are tied at a set apiece, the side that wins the third set wins the match 80 percent of the time.
So when his team lost the first six points of the third set to visiting Wilde Lake on Wednesday and then trailed 9-1, he decided it was time for “teaching mode, not coaching mode,” as he put it. He put his notebook down and simply focused on teaching fundamentals from the sideline.
A 4-0 run by the Eagles followed and another 5-0 rally soon after cut their deficit to 15-13. A kill by freshman Alisha Service brought them back to within four, 19-15, and set the table for an epic comeback and a run that few teams don’t get in an entire season, let alone the season opener. Junior Sarah Allen served nine consecutive points, during which she had three aces and a kill, to close the stanza on a 10-0 run.
Although Wilde Lake (0-1 Howard County, 1-1 overall) bounced back to win the fourth set, Centennial (1-0, 1-0) started the fifth-and-deciding set strong and never trailed en route to a 15-9 win to clinch the Eagles’ victory, 25-13, 21-25, 25-19, 20-25, 15-9.
“The third set was extremely important. We missed six hits in a row to start and I called timeout and put attention to it and reminded them of the things we’ve been working on since the beginning of the season,” Bossom said. “That was serve and pass, hit the ball in the court, which is easier said than done.”
Senior outside hitter Jackie Sterenberg, the Eagles’ lone returning All-County player from a year ago, looked the part and carried them down the stretch. She finished with 20 kills while committing just five errors and had a team-high seven aces. Allen, meanwhile, had 10 kills, five aces and 18 digs.
Their success in the clutch was key to starting the season 1-0, Bossom said, but more important was their calmness on the court. With a new setter and two freshmen and a sophomore seeing plenty of playing time, a rarity for one of the state’s most prestigious programs, their attitude and confidence on the court paid dividends in the end.
“The biggest thing for both of them tonight was their serve receive and being calm in the serve receive,” Bossom said. “They had little lulls, but the biggest thing for them is being calm. But we are counting on them to score points a lot.”
Wilde Lake coach Nick Sharp said the third set was probably the difference in the match, although he liked his team’s resolve and their ability to answer and win the second and fourth sets. He chalked the third set up to classic volleyball — sometimes you get a run, sometimes you don’t.
“You get a long run sometimes and sometimes you get stuck and you get your feet nailed to the floor for a few plays, and next thing you know you’re down a few points,” he said.
The Wildecats also won a five-set match on Tuesday at Archbishop Spalding and that, as well as it being the first two days of a new school year, played a role against Centennial, Sharp said.
“They’re beat. They’re tired. They played five long sets yesterday,” he said. “It’s no excuse but it’s hard, and we’ve got a couple young players.”