Loaded with experience and firepower, third-ranked Mount de Sales was favored to win another volleyball championship this year. The team featured two All-Metro players and a two-time defending championship resume.
In the end, though, it was a freshman who propelled them to a title.
Freshman Kelenna Onukwugha stepped to the service line with her team trailing 12-11 in the fifth set and posted an ace and four more service winners to lead the Sailors. Mount de Sales won 25-21, 25-18, 24-26, 22-25, 15-13 over spirited Maryvale to win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship at Goucher College on Saturday night.
The Sailors (18-2, 14-1) trailed 9-4 in the final set, before rallying for the victory.
“Our team did such a great job,” said Mary Grace Goyena, an All-Metro player as a sophomore last season. “I don’t know, I just knew there was something inside us that would help us pull it together [in the fifth set]. We lost to them at home on our senior night, so we really wanted this for our seniors."
The Sailors took the first set, but had to fend off a run by the Lions. Down 24-17, Maryvale (16-3, 12-4) got kills from Claire Neff and Caroline Burke to mount a rally that cut the deficit to 24-21, before a Goyena kill ended the set, 25-21.
The second set was starting to look like the first, with Mount de Sales jumping to a 7-4 lead, but No. 9 Maryvale tied it at 10 on a Sophie Savick ace. Maryvale took a brief lead, 13-12, before the Sailors went on a 6-2 run, which ran the score to 18-15 and forced Maryvale coach Missy Little to call a timeout. Even that didn’t help, as Mount de Sales outscored the Lions, 7-3, to take the second set.
Maryvale got back in the match in the third and fourth sets. The shots that hadn’t been falling began to find the holes, and the Lions rallied in the third set to break a 24-24 tie, and win the set on a Neff kill.
The fourth set was much the same. Leading 23-22, Maryvale got kills from Caroline Burke to take the set, 25-22, and set up the dramatic fifth set.
“It feels incredible to win a championship in my first year, especially with my sister [Chidinma} on the team,” Kelenna Onukwugha said. “I have a routine that I go through when I serve, and I just kept going through it, and it worked.”
The Sailors have won the last three titles with three different coaches.
“That just shows you how much it was the girls,” said Sailors coach Gary Troy, who just sat on the bench while his team celebrated. “They earned this, and I wanted them to enjoy it.”
C Conference: Friends (12-2, 8-1) outlasted St. Timothy’s, 25-23, 18-25, 25-18, 25-23 to win the title. Friends entered the tournament as the second seed, and proved to be too much for St. Timothy’s (9-6, 6-3), which upset top seed Beth Tfiloh in the semifinals. The title was the third for the Quakers, who also won in 1999 (in the A Conference) and in 2010 (in the C Conference).
B Conference: On its third trip to the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference finals, St. Mary’s emerged the victor at long last, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to rise over St. John’s Catholic Prep 3-2, (25-17, 21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-11).
“They had to fight for it," first-year coach Sarah Heary said. "They had to play awesome defense, push back on St. John’s and give ourselves a chance -- and they did that. They stepped it up, different people stepped up and made the plays. Good things happen when you do that.”
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— Katherine Fominykh