River Hill's Amber Wiswell attacks during the Hawks'… (Brian Krista, Patuxent…)
Coming into its state semifinal match against La Plata Thursday night at Ritchie Coliseum, No. 4 River Hill had yet to play in a fifth set all season.
But after winning the match 22-25, 30-28, 25-12, 21-25, 15-2, the Hawks (18-1) sure looked like they had been there before.
They'll go for their first state championship Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against North Hagerstown, a 3-1 winner over Towson in the other semifinal.
“We were down to one game from not being there on Saturday,” coach Lynn Paynter said. “[Our players] wanted to win, and they did, and I’m really proud of how [they] finished out the match.”
It was the first loss of the season for La Plata (18-1), which had already played in two five-set matches.
The Warriors, led by senior Mary Lavery (23 kills, 12 digs, five aces), have lost in the state semifinals two years in a row.
“Our passing broke down, and when you have a passing breakdown, you lose your confidence — you lose that power,” La Plata coach Catherine Lavery said of the third and fifth sets. “[The Hawks] did a great job with their serving, and they just took us down. And if you can’t pass the ball you can’t win.”
Last year, Towson defeated La Plata in the state semifinal, then went on to beat Centennial for the state championship.
La Plata was on the verge of building a daunting advantage when it led, 23-21, in the second set. But that’s when River Hill senior Kristin Lee (11 kills, 19 digs) recorded three kills in a four-point span to get her team back in the match. The teams then battled back and forth until senior Amber Wiswell (13 kills) closed out the set with a kill and a block.
In the third set, River Hill jumped to an 11-4 lead and never wavered. La Plata never trailed in the fourth set, but a service run by Caitlin Davis to start the fifth set established the tone for the tiebreaker. The senior setter recorded four aces in that run, and by the time she finally stepped away from the baseline, her team was ahead 9-0.
“I just tried to keep serving the ball in and to generally the same area, because I knew that once you shank a couple, you start to get nervous,” said Davis, who finished with 35 assists, 17 digs and six aces.
After that run, Lavery got the Warriors on the board with a pair of kills. But then Kelly Davis, Caitlin’s twin sister, went on a five-point serving run, including one of her five aces, to close the match.
River Hill’s only loss this season was to 4A East Region champion Arundel in the District V title match. In that match, River Hill could not get much going at the net, but on Thursday, the Hawks outblocked the Warriors, 7-2, with Cassidy Davis (four blocks) and Wiswell (three) leading the way.
River Hill won three regional titles in a row between 2007 and 2009, advancing to the state championship match in 2009, but the Hawks have never won a volleyball state title.
They’ll get another chance Saturday.
“We knew we wanted it,” senior Marta Roman said. “Kristin and I and Caitlin, we’ve been here so many times, freshman and sophomore year. We don’t want it to end like that, we want to go all the way this year.”