LA PLATA -- Centennial volleyball coach Bill Shook spent most of the second half of last night's Class 3A semifinals frantically reworking his notes for Saturday's championship.
That is because Shook's second-seeded Eagles (18-0) advanced as expected with a 15-5, 15-12, 15-9 defeat of No. 3 McDonough (Charles), but will not be facing their long-anticipated opponent.
Top-seeded Catonsville was dominated in stunning fashion by No. 4 Seneca Valley, 15-11, 15-6, 15-9. It was the Comets' first loss in 15 games this season.
"This is a big surprise. And I think we'll match up much better with Seneca Valley," said Shook, who had scouted Catonsville vs. Loch Raven in the Baltimore County championship and thoroughly expected to face the Comets.
He will now enjoy big advantages in both height and numbers Saturday (5 p.m. at Catonsville Community College).
"I really wanted to play Catonsville. So did the girls, but it's nice to be in the championship either way," Shook said.
Except for its typical second-game woes, No. 2-ranked and second-seeded Centennial played well -- if conservatively -- in wearing down No. 3-seeded McDonough (14-4).
The Eagles fell behind, 10-5, in the second, but quickly regrouped behind middle hitter Shannon Saltzman, hitters Laura Taneyhill and Carly Cangiano, and key substitute Sandy Palasek.
"We've lost a total of four games this year, but three of them were second games. I think we just tend to ease up a little bit too soon," Shook said.
According to Saltzman, a 6-foot junior who excelled throughout, "It might be a slight bit of cockiness from an unbeaten season. We come out really psyched up, then calm down [with the lead] and are just not as pumped."
Centennial turned it around on seven straight service points from Palasek. Jenn Herrman's smash and consecutive kills by Saltzman opened a 13-10 edge, and the Eagles went on to win, 15-12, when McDonough's Debbie Allison drove Taneyhill's serve into the ceiling.
In its third-game decision, Centennial opened a quick 6-0 lead on the serving of Sezin Omer and Palasek.
McDonough had consistent good play from middle hitter Jennise Swann and outside hitter Denitria Hayes, but the Rams were not as deep as Centennial.
That played directly into the winner's hands. "We want to get the ball in play and keep it in play. An endurance match is to our advantage," Shook said.
Catonsville was plagued by poor serving and passing, shaky play from its big hitters on the outside and by its lack of a true setter.
"We had serving problems, hitting problems, setting problems. They [Seneca Valley] played great defense, the best I've seen all year. But we just couldn't do anything right," said Comets coach Debbie Clem.
Jill Altschuler and Jacquie Stigall did have their moments on defense. "If not for them, we would really have been creamed," Clem said.