The Patuxent volleyball team entered the season with a simple motto: "Taking Care of Unfinished Business." The mantra originally referred to Patuxent's goal of recording first-ever victories over county rivals Northern and Calvert, but after Friday night's electrifying five-game victory over Calvert in the 3A South Region final, the No. 3 Panthers decided to put the slogan to a new use.
"Now, our unfinished business is Wednesday and Saturday," said senior setter Katy Zimmerman, referring to this week's state tournament.
Patuxent's first trip to the state semifinals was made possible by nearly 150 minutes of nip-and-tuck volleyball, which resulted in a 15-8, 15-17, 15-9, 10-15, 15-10 Patuxent victory. It was the second time in less than three weeks the schools have played five games: No. 8 Calvert (14-3) handed the 16-1 Panthers their only loss in a five-game thriller Oct. 22.
"We wanted it, we knew what we had to do, and we did it," said outside hitter Margo Shisler, one of six seniors in the Panthers' eight-player rotation.
Shisler (seven kills, four blocks) and Charese Baldwin (18 kills, 13 blocks) complemented Patuxent's customary defensive excellence with fine play up front, neutralizing the accurate, hard-hitting leapers on Calvert's side of the net. The Panthers also got a late spark from Candi Claggett, who came off the bench in the waning moments of the fifth game to record two huge blocks, including one that set up match point.
"I couldn't wait to get back in; I was all hyped up," said Claggett, who missed much of the season with ankle and thumb injuries. "Just to be there on the court when it all happens -- you feel happy, you feel like you want to cry."
Oddly, more tears were shed on the victorious Patuxent sideline Friday night. The Cavaliers played valiantly, mixing deep blasts with short taps and nearly matching Patuxent's defensive prowess. Players from both sides of the court are teammates on club teams, and the Cavaliers eagerly offered words of encouragement after their loss.
"I want them to bring [a state title] home; I'm so happy for them," said Calvert senior Lindsey Chaney, who smashed 21 kills, including eight in the final game. "Momentum has a lot to do with who finishes first, but we're two great teams."
After the teams split the first two games, Patuxent jumped out to 9-0 lead in the third game. Calvert then answered with six straight points.
In the fourth game, the roles were reversed: Calvert took an 11-1 lead behind the play of Amber Riffe (10 kills) and Meghan Shields (40 assists). But the Panthers got the noisy home crowd back into the match by drawing to three points at 13-10, giving them momentum heading into the deciding game.
"If we had lost 15-1 or 15-2 [in the fourth game], it would have been devastating," said Zimmerman, who finished with 37 assists. "Coming back was a big boost for our energy."
As usual, the diving saves of back row specialists Jen Lucas, Missy Chapman and Joan Tallant also injected life into Patuxent. "Sometimes it's more exciting to see an awesome dig than a kill," Shisler said. "It just gets everyone pumped up."
The Panthers will make their state tournament debut at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Essex against the 3A North region champion, Dulaney. But Patuxent Coach Matt Poteet wanted to savor the moment before turning his thoughts to the next step.
"We just want to celebrate this victory right now, because it was a huge one," he said. "Offense wasn't going to win tonight; defense wasn't going to win tonight. You had to have everything."