Right from the start it was apparent what separated North Hagerstown and South River in last night's Class 2A state semifinal at Essex Community College.
At the net, smack in the middle on the North Hagerstown side, stood Kristin Sherwood, an athletic 6-2 senior hitter who left a lasting impression in a very short time.
Behind her 17 kills and four blocks, the Hubs from Washington County needed only 46 minutes to get past South River -- 15-0, 15-6, 15-9 -- to advance to Saturday's state championship at Catonsville Community College.
"We faced 6-2 girls during the season and knew what we were up against. She [Sherwood] was just better than what we had seen," said South River's standout junior hitter, Jessica Freeman. "She has good knowledge of the court and always hit it where we weren't. We just couldn't adjust to what she was doing."
Sherwood, who is getting plenty of attention from Division I colleges but is still undecided, made her presence known in the very first point of the match, sending back Caroline Tippett's opening serve and later winning the point with a block.
On the change of serve, the Hubs (17-2) rattled off eight straight points, featuring three Sherwood kills and another block. After one side-out, they closed out the first game with Sherwood getting three more kills. Nine minutes into the match, the Seahawks (11-7) were already down a game.
"We were shocked," said Freeman. "We were excited to be here and knew states was going to be hard, but we thought we could hang with them a little better. We weren't playing like a team in the first two games."
The Seahawks dropped the second game, 15-6 -- falling behind 11-1 -- then stayed with the Hubs for most of the third game before falling by 15-9.
"Sherwood dominated the game and deserves all the credit," said Seahawks first-year coach Wayne Minger. "I can't remember anyone 6-2 who jumped that high. She was very athletic and clearly is one of the best players in the state.
"Our team came in tight, and that complicated matters. We didn't loosen up until the third game and rallied, but it was not enough."
The loss didn't diminish a fine season that saw the inexperienced Seahawks find themselves quickly under a new coach and then make the school's first state playoff appearance since 1993.
With eight of the nine players on the varsity roster juniors, the Seahawks are planning a return trip next year.
"We were very happy to be here. I thought we did extremely well, and this was a classic over-achieving team," Minger said. "They had a great will to win and never quit -- even today. I'm not going home with a long face; I'm very proud."