Only two starters returned from last season. Five players were moved to new positions. This Severna Park volleyball team clearly had a different look than the last two that had won state championships.
The look didn't seem familiar, but the end result sure was. The Falcons will have to clear more space in the trophy case.
They made it three state 4A titles in a row last night, defeating Quince Orchard, 15-6, 13-15, 15-4, 15-5, at Catonsville Community College. It was the school's fifth championship and 53rd consecutive victory in a best-of-five match.
Seniors Julie Kasprzak and Jen Conner registered 14 and 12 kills, respectively, for No. 1 Severna Park (16-0), which came into the tournament as the third seed. Senior Holly McKlveen and sophomore Julie Allen each had four kills, and senior Jennifer Mitchell had three.
Quince Orchard (15-2), making its second appearance in the state tournament, was led by senior Amy Bourgeois with six kills and junior Summer Robertson with nine blocks. The Cougars of Montgomery County were the fourth seed.
Severna Park had lost just one game all year -- to Northern-Calvert in the North Caroline Tournament -- and opponents were averaging less than five points per game going into last night.
But Quince Orchard wasn't overmatched, as Western had been in a 3-0 loss in the semifinals at Watkins Mill. The Cougars gave Severna Park problems with their blocking cross-court and their swing attack on the right side, and they led in every game.
"They were hitting the ball cross-court and we were playing more for midcourt to line-type hitting," said Falcons coach Tim Dunbar. "We moved our defenders over to cross-court and they didn't get very many down after that."
Quince Orchard led once in the first game, 1-0, and there were three ties. With Conner serving, Severna Park went ahead for good, 5-4, on a Cougars violation. Conner served five consecutive winners, and the Falcons rolled.
Conner had a knack for shifting the momentum with her serving and hitting. She was 20-for-21 serving with four aces.
"I've always been a player who, when things get tough, doesn't hold back," she said.
In the second game, Conner helped turn a 7-5 deficit into a 9-7 lead at the service line, but Quince Orchard moved back in front.
"We knew we had to come back out and make sure we stopped their momentum and build up our own," said Falcons setter Susan Wren, who had 30 assists and was 11-for-13 serving with three aces.
Severna Park fell behind 4-0 in the third game, but after Dunbar called a timeout, his team made a speedy recovery. He instructed Conner to start "blasting away down the line," and she overpowered the Cougars. Included in the damage were two straight kills that tied the score 4-4.
XTC "We changed our defense during that timeout and we changed our offensive tactics," Dunbar said. "I told them not to play to lose, to be aggressive."
Just when Severna Park looked like it might breeze through the )) fourth game -- running off the first three points -- Quince Orchard fought back to take a 5-4 lead. But a Conner ace later put the Falcons back on top, 6-5, and a kill by Kasprzak (16-for-16 serving) and a block by Allen -- who was extremely effective defensively at the net -- widened the gap.
Conner served seven winners in a row, and two aces from Godfrey and an underhand save by Mitchell wrapped up another title.
Godfrey was 6-for-6 serving with three aces in the last game.
As good as Severna Park was the two previous years, Dunbar said this team may have been his best.
"This team is more of a unit," he said. "We have two major hitters and the other kids know their roles and play their roles effectively. This team executes so much more cleanly and plays so much more intensely on defense."