Brynn Choplin said Winters Mill seemed to lose a lot of five-set matches last season, and the Falcons were determined not to let their playoff opener get to that point.
The Falcons beat county foe Century in the first two sets of Monday’s Class 2A West Section 1 semifinal by identical 25-19 scores, but the Knights rebounded to take the third 25-21. The Falcons regained their momentum and took the fourth set 25-20, and the victory.
It was the third meeting between the two teams this year — the Falcons twice defeated the Knights 3-1 during the regular season en route to earning a share of the Carroll County Athletic League title.
“Leading up to this game, I honestly wasn’t sure how we were going to play because the last games were really slow,” Choplin said. “This game, we really pulled it together.”
Choplin had a game-high 20 kills, Jordan Badorrek notched 32 assists, and Kayla Vaeth had 17 digs for the Falcons (13-2).
The teams were tied 7-7 early in the first set, but the Falcons used a 10-0 run sparked by a Century service error to pull away. The second set was back and forth and every few points resulted in a tie, but the Falcons used 3-0 scoring spurts to overcome the Knights in similar fashion, 25-19.
Century came out firing in the third set and led 8-1, thanks to a pair of kills from junior Carol Mastria. A series of mistakes ensued for the Knights that allowed the Falcons to come within one, however, at 8-7.
The Falcons scored five straight to erase the Knights’ lead, but Century powered back.
Another kill from Mastria sparked a 3-0 run for a 21-17 lead, and Eva Brandt and Eden Harrison combined for a pair of blocks to keep the Falcons at bay to force a fourth set.
Winters Mill never lost its lead in the fourth, though, and held at least a one-point edge throughout. A kill from Choplin put the Falcons up 11-7, but Century tied it 15-15. The Falcons used a 4-0 run at the end to gain a 23-19 lead, and eventually took the match.
“Every time we lose one set, we know it’s usually something specific that we have to focus on and fix,” Vaeth said. “We usually really take that into consideration and just fix it the next set to get it back.”
Badorrek attributed the team’s resilience to the familiarity it has with one another.
Mastria hit 16 kills and notched 11 digs while Caroline Kennell added 26 helpers and seven digs for the Knights (10-6). Maria Acaron and Jenna Winters both had six digs and Acaron aded four kills.
“I think what it says about Winters Mill is they have that experience,” Knights coach Bryan Trumbo said. “Last year they had maybe a .500 record and they lost a lot of five-set matches so they had a lot of experience going into this year and they had, I think, seven seniors and they started one junior, so they lose their whole team. That team got to experience what it takes in order to pull out big matches and I think going through that experience and understanding the pressure and everything really helped them.
“I think we have a lot of talent and a lot of youth and we’re going to take this season, reflect on it and come back really hungry and ready to go because we have basically our starting lineup back.”
The Knights defeated South Carroll in three sets to advance to the section semifinals against the Falcons. Winters Mill moves on to face another county rival — Liberty — in the section final Wednesday at Winters Mill.
“We just knew we had to focus and play our game,” Falcons coach Kari Totten said. “Just go with the basics, play how we know how to play, don’t get too excited about something, just stay nice and calm and play our game — they brought it together.”