Arundel coach Ashley Yuscavage calls senior setter Emily Liu an unsung hero. She feels the impact Liu made on her ensemble cast squad this fall is so often overlooked by other county opponents, onlookers — and even herself.
But when the Wildcats needed a good run or a strong start, they turned to Liu to step to the service line and control fate. When Arundel’s deep arsenal of hitters needed a helping hand, they knew Liu would be there.
Liu’s strength was her discipline and her commitment to doing things the right way every single time in her first and only season as a starter.
“She’s done what she’s supposed to do really well and she does it without fanfare,” Yuscavage said. “She’s just like, ‘When you need me, I’ll be here and I’m ready.’”
With a program single-season record 564 assists, a dedicated work ethic and a contagious positivity cherished by all Liu’s teammates, the Capital Gazette’s 2022 volleyball Player of the Year was the battery behind the best team in the county on its voyage to the Class 4A state championship game and a 19-1 mark this fall. Her selflessness embodied the soul of an Arundel squad whose points could come from anyone on the floor at any time.
“She was spreading the ball around so people knew that she had faith in them, and that lifted them up,” Yuscavage said. “They knew she didn’t play favorites when she was setting and that was the big difference in their dynamic.”
“I never had a doubt Emily would miss the opportunity to set that perfect ball to any one of our hitters,” senior Kennedy McDowney said.
Liu’s consistency from the service line all but ensured Arundel captured another county title. In a late-season game with Crofton, Liu spurred a 13-0 run from the line that doomed the Cardinals. In the county championship against rival Broadneck, Liu led a 7-0 streak in the fifth set that quelled the Bruins’ rally for good. Liu finished the year with a 98.1 serving percentage and 76 aces.
“I knew my serving had to be aggressive and consistent, to mess up the other team’s serve-receive,” Liu said, “and it would just help us gain momentum. It was an important part of just keeping the lead we had.”
Though Liu was never one to call attention to her successes, her teammates admired her focus and dedication on the floor in every single game. She also wasn’t one to monopolize her starting role when she got it. Junior Payton Swinton relied on her stalwart cheerleader when the team had Swinton spend time at setter.
“She really helped me feel more confident and comfortable,” Swinton said. “Her constant support for me on and off the court, along with her helpful feedback, really showed me the kind of teammate everyone should have.”
There’s no statistic for a teammate’s emotional support, but if there was, the Liu would lead the Wildcats in that category, too. Her teammates appreciated her jokes and levity as much as they did her focus and skill. Each had their own inside jokes with her, remembered her laughing mid-game or funny hand-motion dance moves she’d enact on the court when coaches told her to “go wild.” Junior Taylor Johnson’s personal favorite was “be there or be a hexagon.” The joy Liu provided them was her team’s renewable energy source that never ran out until the very final serve that delivered Urbana the state title in the fifth set.
“When someone around her does something big that she assists, she’s so full of joy,” Yuscavage said.
An utter lack of ego doesn’t mean Liu lacks faith in herself, Yuscavage said. The senior’s ability to read the ball and know where she’s supposed to be draws from a source of confidence borne of her endless hard work, regardless of how long she started games from the bench.
Never has Yuscavage never had to ask Liu to do more because Liu made her bones with the Wildcats as a utility reserve player. The Arundel coach deployed Liu as a freshman to junior anywhere on the floor the Wildcats needed support, predominantly defense. She didn’t get the chance to set consistently until her senior year.
“That didn’t stop her from showing up to every practice with a good attitude,” senior Audrey Owens said. “This year, she really proved what she was made of.”
Coach of the Year
Maureen Carter, South River
In her 28th season coaching the Seahawks, Carter guided them to the Class 4A state quarterfinals and back to the upper echelon of county volleyball. South River amassed 10 sweeps towards their 13-5 record, including a 3-0 upset of county runner-up Broadneck in the playoffs. The Seahawks proved how tough they could be in close matches. They prevailed in a five-set match with Severna Park in the regular season, and upended No. 1 Leonardtown in the Class 4A East Region II final, 3-1.
“We came together as a team right at the perfect time — playoffs,” Carter said. “We had a good run into the playoffs, and we were playing some great volleyball when we needed to. You always want a little more, but the team finished strong. It was a great season.”
All-County first team
Bella Clark, South River, senior, outside hitter
Clark proved dependable on offense or defense, finishing with the second-most on her team in kills (108) and matched them with 102 digs.
Emily Gustie, Crofton, senior, outside hitter
Gustie led her Cardinals from the service line (95.7%) with 36 aces, all while registering a team-high 147 kills. She also tallied 11 assists and nine blocks.
Lily Lagaras, Crofton, senior, outside hitter
Lagaras helped spearhead her Cardinals’ run to the Class 3A state semifinal with a team-high 47 aces (91.7% serving) as well as 141 kills, 15 blocks and 11 assists.
Elizabeth Marks, South River, senior, right side hitter
Marks garnered a team-high 114 kills, as well as 35 digs, 17 blocks and two aces, serving 91% for her Seahawks en route to the Class 4A state tournament.
Ava Meadows, Severna Park, senior, right-side hitter
Meadows came alive under the harshest circumstances, landing 18 kills against IAAM A Conference champion Maryvale Prep. She led her crew in aces (29), hitting percentage (.334) and kills (117).
Audrey Owens, Arundel, senior, outside hitter
Owens combatted injury to become the Wildcats’ leader in kills with 156. She also compiled 34 aces and 126 digs.
Bella Rubino, Broadneck, senior, outside hitter
Rubino ruled from the back of the court to the front with 138 service points and 151 kills. She collected 37 aces, as well as eight blocks and 103 digs.
Mariah Sanabia, Spalding, senior, middle blocker
Sanabia mounted 104 kills and 42 blocks to boost Spalding (14-4) to the IAAM A Conference final with a hitting percentage of .346 in the regular season as well.
Madeline Stewart, Broadneck, senior, setter
The American commit amassed 462 assists for the 11-5 Bruins. She served 94 points and finished the year with 25 aces, 64 kills, 14 blocks and 95 digs.
Payton Swinton, Arundel, junior, opposite hitter
Swinton rose to every challenge with even stats across the board. She tallied 31 aces, 149 kills , 86 assists, 17 blocks and 156 digs.
Kristen Burton, Spalding, senior, setter
Emily Gordon, Old Mill, senior, outside hitter
Kiara Harmon, Arundel, junior, middle blocker
Mia Keen, South River, senior, setter/outside hitter
Sophia Krause, Annapolis, senior, all-around
Malani Martin, AACS, junior, outside hitter
Madison Sidney, AACS, junior, setter
Deviana Walker, Arundel, junior, outside hitter
Christine Wang, Crofton senior setter
Hannah Waters, Broadneck, senior, setter
Jasmin Azan, Chesapeake Science Point, senior, outside hitter
Morgan Daughters, Old Mill, junior, middle blocker
Casey Gish, Broadneck, junior, outside hitter
Marina McAteer, St. Mary’s, senior, outside hitter/libero
Kyra Obert, St. Mary’s, senior, middle blocker
Cora Shafer, Crofton, senior, middle hitter
Perry Stevenson, Severna Park, junior, outside hitter
Taylor Stone, Severna Park, senior, setter
Sydney Watts, Severna Park, senior, libero
Nia Williams, Glen Burnie, senior, middle blocker