Before last night's match, Dulaney volleyball coach Ian Blanchard said he thought it might be a year too late for his team to pull off an upset of No. 1 Centennial, but the Lions proved the timing was just right.
In a clash of state champions, the No. 5 Lions got 18 kills from Veronica Briggs and took advantage of a host of Centennial attack errors to take a 9-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-6 victory.
"It's indescribable," said Lions setter Bruna Fonseca, who finished with 25 assists. "They were supposedly the better team in the papers. They had the best players. We knew we had a chance to beat them. We knew coming in that we were the underdogs, and we tried to use that as motivation."
Before the match, Blanchard, whose team has won the past two Class 4A state titles, knew his rebuilding team lacked depth and height against the host Eagles, winners of five straight state crowns, including the past four in Class 2A.
The Lions (4-0) had only eight girls available, and one of their best hitters, Jen Wylie, sat on the bench with a broken foot. Centennial (2-1) had a roster of more than a dozen girls. Dulaney's tallest player was 5-foot-10 Kristin Schmidt (four kills), while the Eagles had 6-0 All-Metro Lindsay Feller (13 kills) and 6-2 Kelsey Tyree (six kills).
The match, however, did not turn on depth or power; it turned on who made the fewest errors.
"We capitalized on errors and when we needed big plays, we got big plays especially out of Briggs," said Blanchard of his 5-6 senior outside hitter. "She was huge."
Briggs had five kills in the first game, and Fonseca set the tone for the match with an opening seven-point service run peppered with three aces. In every game, the Lions ran up at least a 5-0 lead leaving the Eagles to try to claw their way back.
"Our passing was the key," said Briggs. "Just being in those long rallies gave us those points that we needed."
In the third game, as the Eagles tried to rally from a 9-2 deficit, setter Molly Reitz suffered a separated right shoulder diving for a ball. As she headed for the hospital, Dulaney led 9-5.
The Lions then quickly pulled ahead 13-5. The Eagles rallied to within 13-10, before the Lions closed out the game for a 2-1 advantage. Five of the last six Lions points of the game came on Centennial mistakes.
"The majority of their points [in the match] came from our errors," said Centennial coach Mike Bossom. "At one time in Game 2, every side out that they got was an attack error. I would say about 70 percent of their points came from our attack errors. The good news is we can fix all that. The bad news is we made all those mistakes, which we were hoping we had fixed before this."
Losing Reitz, who Bossom said will be sidelined for at least two weeks, left the Eagles out of sync the rest of the match and helped the Lions run up an 11-2 lead in the final game. Reitz had 17 assists before she left, but without her, more than the Eagles' offense suffered.
"Its really hard when the setter goes down," said Bossom, "because she's in certain spots on certain serve receives, and it's difficult for somebody else to walk in and know where to stand without a little bit of confusion. That little bit of confusion puts the passer slightly off-balance, puts the hitter's timing slightly off, so it affects a lot of parts of the game."
The Eagles managed to pull within 12-6 in the final game before the Lions finished off the match, helped in part by four straight Centennial service errors.
"To be able to come here in their house and beat a really good team that they are, it's amazing," said Fonseca, "especially since this year's team, we don't have a lot of stars."
Said Briggs: "We knew we had to work together. We knew it was going to be hard work, but we pulled together."