Northern and McDonough, two volleyball teams that have taken very different paths this season, advanced within one round of the Maryland 3A South Regional final with quarterfinal victories Monday.
No. 1 Northern, which has been expected all year to contend for the Maryland 3A title, defeated No. 6 Patuxent, 15-4, 15-8, 15-9, and faced No. 2 Calvert in a semifinal on Wednesday. (Results of that game were not available at Southern Maryland Extra's publication deadline).
McDonough, an inexperienced and undersized team that began the year as a question mark, rolled to a 15-8, 15-3, 15-6 victory against visiting Thomas Stone and also played its semifinal Wednesday, against La Plata.
In Monday's other quarterfinals, Calvert defeated Chopticon, 15-11, 15-12, 15-5, and La Plata defeated Leonardtown 6-15, 15-8, 15-9, 15-6.
Sophomore outside hitters Nikki Gaetano and Brittany Mister led Calvert to its victory. Gaetano had 13 kills and Mister served four aces. Junior middle hitter Rachel Leitch had 11 kills and five blocks, and senior setter Laura Fowler finished with 29 aces.
Senior outside hitter Katie Radford had a game-high 22 kills in Northern's victory over visiting Patuxent. Although Northern won in straight games, the victory was not as easy as the score implied. Patuxent jumped out to leads in both the second and third games, and Patuxent senior middle hitter Sara Shisler kept Northern off-balance with a strong match.
"Patuxent is a well-coached team, and they defensively try and do things against us to test our weaknesses," Northern Coach Beth Incrocci said. "They did a good job of trying to take Katie [Radford] out of our offense. . . . It took [Radford] a little while to get adjusted, but she's an amazing player."
Playing for a spot in the regional final and possibly making it to the state tournament is exactly where Northern expected to be at the start of the season.
The Patriots concluded the regular season with their eighth SMAC title of the decade and seek their sixth state title of the 1990s. With a senior dominated lineup--a handful of whom have been playing together since middle school--Northern expects a shot at a state title.
For McDonough, juniors Esther Michela and Alison Ziegler dominated the net, with both players getting several blocks against Thomas Stone.
McDonough's first-year coach, Morris Davis, didn't know what to expect at season's start. The Rams fielded a team with just one senior and--unlike Northern's powerful lineup--start two outside hitters who stand no taller than 5-foot-4.
But the Rams' consistent play made up for a lack of height and experience. McDonough's only losses came to Northern and Calvert, and the Rams concluded the regular season with an exciting victory over No. 6 Patuxent.
McDonough's matches against Northern and Calvert resulted in rather lopsided losses. Despite that, Davis said, he believes the Rams are ready for another shot at either of the top two teams.
"They have learned they are capable of doing anything," Davis said of his team, which placed third in the conference behind Northern and Calvert. "The first time we played Northern and Calvert, we were mentally beat before stepping on the court. They were intimidated going against the big teams. . . . I think the win over Patuxent, and with the team playing the way they are now, we will make it much more competitive than we did last time."
CAPTION: Northern's Katie Radford, right, spikes the ball past Patuxent's Mackenzie Garvin. Radford had 22 kills during the Patriots' quarterfinal victory Monday.
CAPTION: Patuxent senior middle hitter Sara Shisler, left, kept the Patriots off balance with a strong match, but here she was unable to force a shot through Northern's Mattie Weber, center, and Darcey Radford during the second game Monday.