When Calvert's Whitney Johnson winds up for a spike, the spectators in the crowd go silent in anticipation. They know what's coming, and so does the opposing team.
The 6-foot-2 middle hitter then leaps high into the air and, more often than not, slams the ball to the floor with impressive force.
Johnson's offensive prowess helped No. 3 Calvert to a road victory over Northern on Tuesday evening, 25-20, 25-22, 25-19. Johnson led the Cavaliers (9-0, 6-0 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) during two crucial stretches of the match and simultaneously demonstrated why she is one of the best volleyball players in the area.
"I think she is capable of taking over the game anytime she wants to because of her height, her intimidation and her manner of playing," Calvert Coach David Redden said of Johnson, a junior who was an honorable mention All-Met last season.
In the first game, Northern came out of a timeout and pulled to 23-20 after trailing by as many as 10 points. Johnson, however, quelled the Patriots' rally and secured the first game for the Cavaliers with forceful back-to-back kills. She totaled nine kills in the first game alone.
The Patriots (5-4, 4-2 SMAC) later took a 19-18 lead in the second game before Johnson took over and recaptured the momentum. She tied the game at 19 with another kill and then served three consecutive aces to put Calvert in front 22-19. When the Cavaliers held on for a 25-22 win, the match was firmly in their control.
"I just told myself that I had to get those balls in," Johnson said.
Northern Coach Linda Curry said her team didn't try to contain Johnson but instead tried to capitalize when Johnson was playing in the back row. The Patriots were generally unable to do so as they lost to Calvert for the second time this season.
"Our passing was terrible," Curry said. "Our serving was not up to par. What I told [my players] is that we played poorly and kept up with them. Imagine what would have happened if we would have played well."
With the victory, Calvert remained unbeaten in its quest to repeat as state champion. The Cavaliers claimed the Maryland 3A crown last season but are playing in Class 2A this year. They fell from the No. 1 ranking last Thursday after losing a best-of-three match to Centennial that did not count against their record because of the match's format.
If the Cavaliers are to repeat, they will do so under Johnson's leadership. She was named an alternate to the U.S. Junior National team this summer and spent time in Colorado working with top-level coaches and improving her game, particularly her passing.
Despite that lofty honor and her performance against Northern, Johnson modestly disagreed with her coach's notion that she alone can take over a game.
"You always need your teammates," she said. "Volleyball is a team sport."