The Maryland 3A volleyball championship match was over Saturday, the Patuxent fans were on their feet and screaming wildly and, still, it hadn't sunk in. It wasn't until the public address announcer at the Community College of Baltimore-Catonsville uttered the phrase "state champions from Patuxent High School" during the trophy presentation that it truly hit the Panthers.
Senior Jen Lucas, flanked by seniors Missy Chapman and Joan Tallant, clutched her friends' arms in disbelief. Her mouth dropped open, her eyes widened and teared.
"I just got real excited after she said that," Lucas said. "It was like, 'Wow! We're the state champions!' We have so many seniors on this team, and this means everything to us. This is what we've been working for for four years. The goal was to go to states, and winning it . . . this just couldn't be better."
The Panthers, participating in their first state tournament, fought off a few initial nerves and overpowered a feisty Mount Hebron team, 15-12, 13-15, 15-7, 15-7.
The title is Patuxent's first girls' team championship in any sport, and the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's lock on the crown. The three Calvert County teams have captured nine consecutive state titles, with Northern winning in 1990 and again from 1994 to 1997 and 1999 to 2001, and with Calvert earning its lone title in 1998.
Before this season, the eventual state champion had always eliminated Patuxent, which began playing varsity volleyball five years ago.
"This was our first time here, but we've been in a lot of pressure situations," Patuxent Coach Matt Poteet said. "We play against a level of competition down in Calvert that really prepares us for everything we're going to see. If you come out of our region, you've got a real good shot of winning the state title if you play well. Tonight we got what we came here for."
The Panthers used their usual combination to down the Vikings, mixing a ferocious defense led by Chapman, Lucas and Tallant with powerful hitting. Senior Margo Shisler (12 kills) and junior Sara Redgate (6) handled most of the work on the outside, and the team's trio of 6-foot-2 middle hitters -- senior Charese Baldwin and juniors Candi Claggett and Amanda Robinson -- dominated inside.
Baldwin did the brunt of the damage, logging a match-high 14 kills and four blocks.
"It was my last game and I was just going after everything," Baldwin said.
Several of Baldwin's kills came on perfectly placed sets by senior Katy Zimmermann, who finished with a match-high 37 assists.
"Those two, Claggett and Baldwin, they just play so high above the net and [Lucas] . . . oh, my goodness, you can't put the ball down with her back there," said Mount Hebron Coach Michael Moynihan. "And we knew that, but we also knew if we could push the ball and keep it away from her, we could have a shot at taking a game and maybe winning the match. We accomplished the first part, but not the second part," said Moynihan, whose Vikings were among the only teams, with Calvert and Northern, to have beaten Patuxent previously this season.
"Baldwin in the middle, I think, was really the key. She could pretty much put the ball down at will against us, and we couldn't stop that. There's really nobody I've seen in high school that can get up above her and block that shot. . . . Trying to stop the power of Patuxent was really almost impossible to do."