Kristin Vaeth said Winters Mill volleyball coach Kari Totten emphasized one message leading up to the season — this was the Falcons’ year.
With seven seniors on the current roster that progressed and suffered growing pains together on the varsity level since their sophomore year, WM took Totten’s message in stride.
An experienced group defeated Caroll County rival Liberty on Wednesday in a Class 2A West Section 1 final in straight sets, 26-24, 25-16, 27-25.
“We’ve all been together for the past couple years,” Totten said. “They’ve done everything together and I just knew based on last year, our record should have been different. We lost a lot of five-set matches and I knew that wasn’t going to happen this year.”
It’s one thing to beat a team once or twice in a season, but the co-Carroll Athletic League Champions took down Liberty three times in total by fending off a pair of comebacks Wednesday night.
The third set held tight throughout and coming out of a timeout with the score tied 25-25, Winters Mill needed just two points to capture victory.
Brynn Choplin sent a spike past the Liberty frontline to give the Falcons cushion, and on the ensuing point, the senior outside hitter lobbed a shot just out of the reach of two Liberty players for the win.
Choplin and teammate Kristen Vaeth combined for 18 total kills, commanding the net for WM.
“When I saw that ball hit the ground, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” Vaeth said. “My sophomore and junior year, we’ve only gone to round two, we’ve never gone past that. … It was amazing.”
In a compact setting at Winters Mill, shouts and cheers from supporting crowds echoed throughout the gym.
Winters Mill took a 18-12 lead in the first set, but Liberty fought back to tie the score even at 22-22. Senior opposite hitter Ashley Bobnar made a diving save on the ensuing serve and finished off the point with a spike to fuel momentum for the Falcons as they were able to take the first set.
Bobnar finished with 10 digs.
Winters Mill carried that momentum over to the second set and took a commanding 19-7 lead, forcing Lions coach Michael Rainbow to take two timeouts in the process. Kayla Vaeth’s ace and a slew of mistakes from the Lions hindered any chance for a comeback.
“They just came out to play,” Totten said. “Our serve receive looked awesome, our setting and our hits. All around, we looked solid and we played our game.”
Despite a 3-0 loss, Liberty saw opportunities to take sets. After defeating Oakdale in five sets earlier this week, errors down the stretch cost the Lions valuable points against a familiar county opponent.
“We just weren’t able to execute the way we did on Monday,” Rainbow said. “Taking down the defending 2A state champions was a big thing for us. But Oakdale hasn’t seen us before — everything is a surprise to them. When you play a team you’ve played in season, your tendencies are already spoken for.”
With a young team, Rainbow said Liberty still achieved its goal, which was to grow and be better than they were at the beginning of the season.
Lydia Leiner paced the Lions with 16 kills and 10 digs. Mia Dietz added 11 digs and 25 assists.
Winters Mill isn’t finishing playing on its home court, however. The Falcons will host Williamsport on Friday in the 2A West final for a chance to win their first regional crown and advance to the state semifinals.
The Wildcats beat Damascus in straight sets to advance.
“I’m so proud,” said Totten. “They work so hard and they want this so bad. This was our goal and it’s exhilarating for them just to know that we’ve got this far.”