GAITHERSBURG -- Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar called the Richard Montgomery players "human backboards" in describing them before yesterday's Class 4A volleyball semifinal.
"I hear they play great defense," he said, "but it doesn't sound like they have enough offense to beat us."
He was right. The top-seeded Falcons took another step toward defending their state championship with a 3-0 sweep at Watkins Mill High. Game scores were 15-10, 15-10, 15-10.
Severna Park (17-0), ranked No. 2 in the metro area, will meet Northern Saturday night at Catonsville Community College in a rematch of last year's final. A victory would give the school its fourth state title.
The Falcons didn't play particularly well against the smaller, fourth-seeded Rockets (14-3), but a greater concern for Dunbar was an injury to the left ankle of senior setter Jaime Pirotte.
Pirotte went down while trying to save a ball at the net in the second game and had to be carried off the floor. She stayed on the bench with an ice pack on the ankle and said she expects to play Saturday.
"My foot stayed in one position, and when I went to turn, it snapped," she said. "The trainer said to get it X-rayed and to give it a day's rest."
She was replaced by Susan Wren, a transfer from Alabama who led her team to the state finals last season.
"I knew Susan could do the job. She has great hands," Dunbar said.
"We really didn't miss a beat. We didn't pick it up any, but we didn't miss a beat."
Severna Park began each game as if it wouldn't allow a point. Or lose a serve.
But each time, the Falcons would begin committing unforced errors, and Richard Montgomery would come back. The Rockets, behind some nice digs in the back row, led twice in the second game before Severna Park moved ahead for good, 11-10, with Julie Kasprzak serving.
"We were shaky at times, but we pulled through when it counted," said Catherine Kirk (nine kills).
Dunbar said: "We jumped all over them fast, and then we lost concentration. We assumed we could turn it on any time and beat them.
"I think we knew it was inevitable that we were going to win and we were going through the motions. We're not going to play like that against Northern and beat them."
Junior Jen Conner had nine kills and served the final points in the first and third games.