College Park - Hoping to put away losing results from three previous trips to the Class 1A state girls volleyball finals, Perryville put up a strong effort Saturday evening at Ritchie Coliseum.
Nemesis Smithsburg, however, was just a bit too strong, beating the Panthers, 3-1, for the Leopards third straight 1A state championship.
It wasn't, however, easy for the Leopards. The Leopards won set one, 25-19, but dropped set two, 25-13. Perryville was then ahead, 24-20, in set three, but Smithsburg fought off four set points to win, 26-24. The Leopards then closed out the match, winning the fourth set, 25-20.
"Very disappointing end to that game," Panthers coach Matt Borrelli said. "I think we played as well as we've played in years, I think it was a really tight contest. I think at the end of that third set, when we just let them score, I think it was like six points in a row, I think that was the momentum shift that they needed and they finished off the fourth set."
It was that third set that really swung the match Smithsburg's way.
"Perryville's a good team, they came out swinging on us," Leopards coach Rachel Brashear said. "We fended off game-point, I think four or five times in that third set and really showed what these girls are made of. I really couldn't be prouder of them, the progress they've made this year and to be sitting here 19-1, that's pretty sweet. I'm really proud of them."
In that third set, Panther junior Bea Muscella's kill pushed Perryville ahead, 20-19. Three straight miscues by Smithsburg allowed Perryville to slip ahead, 23-19.
Trading points, Perryville had set point, leading, 24-20. A Sydney Scott kill started the Leopards comeback. It was Scott who also served the six-point rally that propelled the Leopards to the 26-24 win.
"I think we were right there with them, I just think maybe a serve or serve receive errors is what killed us," senior hitter Gabby Goodnow said.
Scott, a sophomore, and junior Lauryn Daniels, were the tandem that did the most damage for the Leopards. Scott (23 kills) and Daniels (16 kills) were both active in sets one and four. Both had kills in a 9-0 Smithsburg run that broke open a close set one (9-7 Smithsburg).
The Panthers were down, 18-7, but an 8-1 advantage over the next nine serves tightened things up. Gillian Bumba's ace had Perryville to within three, 22-19. Smithsburg, though, was able to score the next three and pull out the opening set.
The momentum went to Perryville, and it showed in set two. The lead was 8-3 off another Bumba serve and 10-5 on Teri Wennersten's tip kill. A Meghan Lane kill increased the lead to 13-5 and Gabby Goodnow added a block to give Perryville a 17-6 lead.
Muscella added an ace that made it 22-11 Perryville. The Panthers gave up two points and then scored the next three to win the set.
Set four was tight as well, before Smithsburg had a 10-2 scoring advantage, erasing a 9-6 Perryville lead.
The run gave the Leopards a 16-11 advantage and Perryville made a late run to fall short by five points.
"I think it's important that we wanted to win, we really wanted to keep getting points and scoring, bringing the momentum back to us," Smithsburg's Hannah Lund said.
The Panthers had eight service errors, with four coming in the fourth set.
"Volleyball is a game of momentum and we had it going into that second set and we carried on and we played really hard and we used that momentum to our advantage," Wennersten said. Wennersten finished with eight kills and five blocks.
Goodnow was the Panthers main force, banging down 17 kills and adding five blocks.