Momentum wins volleyball matches. Unfortunately for Arundel, momentum turned against it at the wrong time — and in the worst possible place.
The Wildcats who donned the Kelly green and white for four years learned what defeat in the Class 4A championship felt like. After a night-and-day rally in the third and fourth sets, Arundel lost momentum early in the fifth to bow to No. 3 seed Urbana, 25-22, 25-22, 12-25, 9-25, 15-11, losing its first final after capturing consecutive titles in 2019 and 2021.
After two opening sets surrendered to Urbana by too-flat attacks and mistakes, the Wildcats found themselves. This team that had blazed to an undefeated season coming into Thursday’s final at Harford Community College roared once again to life, screaming with joy on every won point in lopsided third and fourth set victories.
“The third and fourth set is the team we’ve been,” Wildcats coach Ashley Yuscavage said, “and I wish we could’ve been that all tonight. Just didn’t do what we needed to do when we needed to, and that’s disappointing.”
Almost immediately, Arundel’s fear that Urbana would not lie down came true.
The Wildcats drummed the Hawks’ hardwood with kills from Audrey Owens, Kiara Harmon, Payton Swinton and Taylor Johnson.
But Urbana packed a little spice, too. Just as Arundel peeled a bit away at 7-3, the Hawks regained the serve and pattered Arundel’s side with a few kills and an ace, buoyed by a few Arundel errors here and there. Urbana scored five in a row for a 10-9 lead.
Hawks senior Logan Burge needled Arundel in the side. Her powerful fist practically single-handedly kept Urbana locked with Arundel, tied at 12 and then again at 18.
Arundel beat Severna Park, Reservoir and Broadneck in the county championship match, all in five sets. In most cases, the Wildcats were quite used to razing opposing teams with kills, dragons against foot soldiers. But in Urbana, they’d met another squad with just as much firepower. Maybe more.
“We expected Urbana to be a little similar to us,” Yuscavage said, “and that comes with its own set of challenges.”
Opposing kills and self-inflicted mistakes mixed into a nasty poison for the Wildcats. The Hawks swiped the first set away, 25-22.
Arundel could block. It could kill. But as the second set began, it couldn’t claim momentum as it could not stop hitting the net.
“We definitely came out a little nervous,” Owens said. “I should’ve definitely come out swinging more in that second set, but I played it safe with a lot of free balls.”
Yuacavage drew her girls in for a timeout at a 9-5 deficit in the second set, and out of it, that gap only worsened. Three more points and two timeouts burned before a net violation against the Hawks rose Arundel from the wreckage. Johnson hit a kill, as did Owens.
All the energy swirled around Arundel into something miraculous. Owens dropped kills, Swinton’s ace tied it at 23. Or so they thought.
The officials called the serve long. And in a blink, Urbana, on its 24th point, celebrated its 2-0 advantage.
And yet, perhaps this had made Urbana too happy. They’d certainly thought so.
“We got a little cocky. We were up two sets,” Burge said. “Maybe we were in the mindset of, ‘We have already won this. We are going to take this home.’ But Arundel did not want to lose.
“They came back 10 times harder.”
The Wildcats would not let Urbana so much as sniff double digits until they’d secured their own 22 points. Johnson and Owens joined forces to bomb the Hawks’ side with aces and kills, respectively, forging a 10-2 lead.
When Urbana poked a few points back in, Wildcats junior Deviana Walker became its nightmare, rattling off more points, slamming a pair of kills along with Swinton and Owens. The Wildcats bought another life with their 25-12 rally.
“Everyone played a big role today,” Liu said. “Even though we did not come out on top. Everyone pushed.”
All season long, Arundel’s power lasted in its own sort of democracy. Every single player had to contribute to the success, whether that be with kills, serves, blocks or digs. There was no star. Literally every person was the star of her own point.
And for all the contributions made already, there was another ringer in the wings: junior Bella Talley.
She capped off a 7-0 run from the service line with two aces of her own, helping Arundel lead Urbana 14-2 in the fourth. The moment the Hawks picked up resistance, Walker took the floor and put them down with a few kills.
Within minutes, the Wildcats ran away with the 25-9 victory. How anything, anyone could divert their course now seemed inconceivable.
But Urbana had already shown once it could throw Arundel off balance with a hot start. And when it needed to, it did.
The Hawks slipped ahead to a 5-2 advantage. After Arundel tied it, Urbana surged back ahead, 12-10. Johnson seemingly tied the set at 12, but a net violation gave Urbana the point.
“I thought we had that set. After the point did get [over]turned, my heart definitely sunk,” Harmon said.
Arundel graduates five seniors who firmly expect that next year’s seniors will pick up the torch.
“I feel they’ll come back really determined and really strong,” Owens said. “To see where we messed up this year, and they’ll go off of that, to build something positive for next year.”