College Park --It took six tries, but the Bel Air girls volleyball team will play for a Class 3A state championship.
The Bobcats (17-2) overcame a 2-0 hole in sets to Huntingtown Wednesday night to win a five-set thriller at Ritchie Coliseum. Scores were 16-25, 22-25, 25-17, 26-24 and 15-13.
Bel Air will face Atholton in Tuesday’s 3A state final. Match time is 8 p.m. Atholton defeated Westminster, 3-1, in the other semifinal.
Serving issues were part of the Bobcats problems in those first two sets, but the Bobcats never quit.
Sophomore hitter Maddie Reagan (15 kills, eight digs) led the comeback effort.
In the deciding fifth set, Bel Air fell behind 11-8, but on Erin Kenney’s kill and two serves (one ace) from Radhilka Patel (16 digs, six assists), the Bobcats pulled even at 11.
The Bobcats then trailed 13-12, before scoring three unanswered points to win.
“I’m very proud of my girls, it takes something special to be down 2-0 and have the grit an faith in each other that they can come back and win the next three,”Bobcats coach Elizabeth McCourt said. “I just couldn’t be prouder.”
It was the Hurricanes who ran off eight straight points for a 12-6 lead in set one. The Hurricanes then scored eight of the next 10 points en route to a 21-12 lead. The Bobcats called two timeouts in that first set, but it didn’t seem to help.
The Bobcats did play better in the second set, leading 4-1 early on Reagan kill and two service aces by junior Olivia Simon (21assists, nine digs).The Bobcats led 9-6 and then 18-16 before Huntingtown reeled off five consecutive points to slip ahead, 21-16.
Bel Air closed to within a point, 23-22, but a pair of service errors by the Bobcats ended set two.
Huntingtown senior setter Abby Johnson (35 assists, 11 kills) was controlling play, setting up both Mulvihill sisters. Quinn, a sophomore, put down a team-best 12 kills, while Carter, a senior, added 10 kills. Senior libero Katelynn Palensky defended the Bobcats offense with 19 digs.
The Hurricanes also served well over the two set wins and finished with 16 service aces.
Then it all changed. “I’ve been coaching this game for a long time and if there was one thing that I saw, it was doubt,” Hurricanes coach Steave Habbert said. “Doubt is an absolute cancer to any team.”
Taking advantage, the Bobcats got back in the match with the win in set three. The Bobcats put together three, multi-point runs to get ahead and stay ahead.
Huntingtown called two timeouts trailing, 10-8, and 16-11. Senior hitter Megan Hoy (nine kills, four aces, four digs) helped the Bobcats push the lead from 17-13 to 23-14.
“I feel like we had no doubt from the beginning, like even being down 2-0, we just looked at each other and we’re like, you know what?, this isn’t our team,” Hoy said. “We’re being hesitant not having confidence in each other and we said let’s flip the switch like coach said. And we came out there and started swinging harder and making less mistakes.”
The Bobcats had 11 service errors, most of which occurred in those first two sets.
The Bobcats closed out the third set with a McKenna Reiswig (seven kills, five blocks) kill and Brooke Myers (eight kills, two blocks, two digs) kill.
“It was more confidence than anything,” coach McCourt said of her team’s comeback. “We came out a little nervous, a little shell shocked, feeling out the arena and then kind of flipped the switch.”
The fourth set was back and forth. Big kills by Reagan late kept the Bobcats ahead and Reagan added a kill that put the Bobcats ahead, 25-24. The Bobcats won the next point to extend the match.
“It was not just confidence, I think we started having fun,” Simon said. “When we have fun, we just came together as a team and play-after-play led to another and it just helped us in the end.”
The Bobcats previous trips that ended with semifinal losses came in 1988, 1989, 1999, 2012 and 2013.
“First thing, hats off to Bel Air, they are a strong volleyball team,” Huntingtown coach Habbert said. “We got off to strong start and we came in with a game plan. We came in with a game plan and that game plan unfortunately didn’t get executed the way I would have liked after the first and second sets.”
Reach Randy McRoberts on twitter. @aegissports