The Maryland 3A volleyball championship match had two stars: Northern senior Katie Radford and River Hill senior Shannon Patrick. Both put on impressive performances, but in the end the state title match was decided by someone else. Or, more specifically, nearly everyone else wearing a Northern jersey.
Depth and team play made the difference as top-ranked Northern (19-0) defeated No. 7 River Hill, 17-15, 17-15, 15-12, at Catonsville Community College on Saturday. The Patriots didn't lose a single game this season, recording 19 sweeps on the way to their sixth state title of the decade.
Patrick had 23 kills and Radford finished with 20, but the Patriots wouldn't have won if a number of other players hadn't stepped forward when River Hill reached game point the first two games.
"We needed to be well rounded," said Northern Coach Beth Incrocci, who has compiled an 87-5 record in five years at Northern. "Yes, Katie Radford is awesome, absolutely. But at the same rate, one player does not make a team, and that is where I thought we could get an advantage. Although River Hill has a solid team, I thought we were a little more solid."
Only four players aside from Patrick tallied kills for River Hill (18-3), while nine Patriots got on the board.
Radford and Patrick finished the opening game with eight and nine kills, respectively. River Hill led, 15-14, but two kills by Radford and a spike by sophomore Cory Karcesky that bounced off two River Hill blockers put the game away.
In Game 2, River Hill built a 14-11 lead. But Northern seniors Tera Blevins and Devin Karcesky teamed up for a block to narrow that to 14-12. After another Karcesky block kept a point alive, junior outside hitter Darcey Krug (six kills) had a spike to cut River Hill's lead to one. Krug added another kill on the next point to tie the score at 14. After Radford and Patrick exchanged kills to tie the score at 15, Northern's Devin Karcesky served back-to-back aces to end the game.
Radford had five kills in Game 3, and Cory Karcesky ended the match with an ace.
"In order to beat River Hill, we knew we had to play as a team," said Devin Karcesky, the senior who finished the match with four kills, three blocks and three aces. "River Hill was a strong enough team that there was no way any of us could play down."
Though Northern had trailed in matches earlier this season--most notably falling behind 7-0 in the first game of the regional final against McDonough--River Hill proved to be the Patriots' most challenging opponent.
"This one was definitely the absolute toughest," Incrocci said. "I thought River Hill gave absolutely everything they had."
Incrocci challenged the Patriots to sweep every match at the start of the season as a short-term goal--she said she thought it would keep the Patriots focused and prevent opponents from rallying. As the season rolled on, the goal became increasingly attainable, although River Hill didn't make it easy in the state final.
"Truthfully, I think it would have been easier to lose those games if we would have lost a game during the season," Devin Karcesky said. "Since we went undefeated and didn't lose a game [during the season], we couldn't lose now."
CAPTION: Northern's Katie Radford screams with glee at the team's state title victory Saturday over River Hill. Radford led the Patriots' offensive attack with 20 kills.
CAPTION: Near the end of the match, Coach Beth Incrocci, center, calls a timeout to give her team tips and encouragement.
CAPTION: Northern senior Tera Blevins, a key defender, launches skyward for a block.