Arundel was down, but it was never out.
Most volleyball teams down two games to none have little hope of victory. It was Severna Park’s match to win, and as the Wildcats huddled together before what could have been their last set of 2018, coach Ashley Yuscavage asked them one question.
“What do you have to prove?” she said. “If you have to prove anything tonight, what do you have to prove?”
As Arundel took one set back and battled back, a few South River players trickled in to watch.
Arundel’s next opponent was just feet away, and last year’s runner-up had a championship to make their way back to.
The Wildcats rallied to win three straight sets, defeating the Falcons in five games to claim the 4A East Section I final crown, 21-25, 14-25, 25-23, 25-18, 15-11 on Wednesday.
Senior Mackenzie Meehan, an overflowing source of energy on the court, powered Arundel (16-2) with 18 kills, aided by Abby Niles, who had a whopping 37 assists. Sophomore Brooke Watts kept the defense stable with 12 digs.
“They’ve gotten more consistent as the season’s gone on, but they’ve done a really good job keeping their heads in the game and swinging away when needed to,” Yuscavage said.
But at first, there were severe cracks in the Wildcats’ foundation, and Severna Park (8-8) exposed them. Though the two were effectively neck-and-neck to start the first set – which would be an occurring theme on the night – the Falcons took off mid-game with a seven-out-of-eight point run.
Even as the Wildcats nearly caught up, behind by just one point near the end, the Falcons could taste victory. A ball hit too hard on Arundel’s part secured Severna Park’s 25th point and a 1-0 lead.
The Falcons found success in winning battles at the net.
“That’s where we earned a lot of good points. I was pretty proud of our players at the net, the jousts, the tight plays, the blocking” Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar said.
For Arundel, the second set showed no more promise.
Though, once again, the count was fairly even for the first dozen points, the Falcons unearthed holes in the Wildcats defense and began drilling kills into them.
Led by a pair of kills from sophomore Siena DeCicco, the Falcons surged to a 20-9 lead. With every point gained, Severna Park screamed as if each was their 25th. Winning a second set would open the door for a sweep.
But even then, the Wildcats showed signs they were capable of a comeback that could derail the euphoric Falcons. They posted five more points before the set was over, but dropped on an ace from Emily Krasic, 25-14.
This wasn’t typical Arundel, they told one another as they gathered together to talk after their second-straight lost set.
“We just said a long prayer together. We knew we had it in us,” Watts said. “We’re a really good team when we just work together.”
In game three, the two swapped leads over and over and over again, all the way to Severna Park’s 18th point. It was then that the Falcons threatened to hit the gas — spurred by back-to-back aces from freshman Sara Mahmud, they strung together a four-point streak to take a 21-17 lead.
But the Arundel defense was plugging its gaps.
“Abrielle [Scrivner] had some really big blocks,” Yuscavage said. “It changed the game.”
Watts and the Wildcats turned it back on their opponents, and then some. The sophomore logged two kills in the seven-out-of-eight run of their own to make it 24-23 Arundel.
But then, the Falcons made a mistake at the net and thunderous screams poured down from the Arundel side of the bleachers, mounting up in the center of their court.
With the 25-23 set win, the Wildcats were on their way.
“Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find those last few points, and Arundel could,” Dunbar said. “Congratulations to them – a lot of teams down 2-0 would fold and they didn’t. They were able to pull the [third] set out.”
But if Arundel was tooth, then Severna Park was nail. Again, the squads were knotted up until the last six-point stretch in game four.
First, Watts tipped in a ball to the court for a point. Then, Meehan fired a kill into the ground.
“We had a lot of confidence after that second set. Somewhere late in the third set, we lost some of that,” Dunbar said.
In no time, Arundel had knotted the sets at two games apiece with the 25-18 win.
The Wildcats started dancing with one another on the floor.
“We had “fake energy” in the first two sets,” Watts said. “But when our momentum started going, if we get a middle kill, that really sets us over.”
If the Falcons were rattled by what had happened – their clean sweep snatched away from them in under an hour – they didn’t show it. They couldn’t.
Again, the two tied each other like it was in the rulebook. But Arundel always, always had the upper hand.
“We always talk about a mantra, something you can say to yourself, to say to your team, pick your team up and get out of your head,” Meehan said.
For Meehan, it’s Philippians 4:13 inscribed on her shoe, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”
And then she found exactly that.
For the 14th point, Meehan shot the kill into the hardwood.
As Watts’ serve ended up in the hands of Severna Park, who hit their ball into their own net, it was over.
With the victory, the Wildcats advance to face South River next. Players and coach agree that there’s work to be done in the interim.
“We’re going to talk about the mental game we struggled with in those first two sets,” Yuscavage said. “Just being tough and being willing to fight when we’re down.”