While her players rode home with family members after the 3A state volleyball semifinals Wednesday, Huntingtown Coach Cheryl Lord and her assistant, Shari Turner, opted to ride the bus.
With the Hurricanes' inaugural season finally derailed after a 25-22, 25-17, 25-14 loss to Seneca Valley, Turner turned to Lord and said, "It was experience that beat us tonight."
All season, experience had been an afterthought for the Hurricanes. They had only two seniors and three players with any varsity experience on their roster, yet Huntingtown (15-3) became the first team in any sport to win a regional title as a first-year school.
Now, the playing field will change. Next year, the Hurricanes will no longer be the new kids in town who blindsided the competition. Instead, they will have targets on their backs as the defending 3A South Region champions.
"We wanted to develop this year, and I think we went beyond our expectations," Lord said. "But I've never underestimated anyone. Not one of my teams or anyone we've played. You never know with kids. They surprise you all the time."
In volleyball-rich Calvert County, the culture around the program has immediately changed. Simply trying to mesh with each other is no longer a concern. The Hurricanes now know where they stand -- near the top.
While they will lose their most dangerous hitter, Allison Miller and one of their most versatile players, Kristyn Jeschelnik, to graduation, everyone else returns. At the top of that list is junior captain Alex Sita, who seamlessly moved to a position -- setter -- that she had never played before. Miller's younger sister, Andrea, a sophomore hitter, should help preserve the team's dangerous net game.
Lord planned to gather her players for one final group meeting Friday to remind them of just how successful the season was. The young Hurricanes lost only two matches during the regular season -- both in five games -- and firmly etched themselves in school history by reaching the state semifinals.
They could probably learn something from the Seneca Valley team that bounced them out of the playoffs. The Screaming Eagles also had lost in last year's state semifinals before growing into the more experienced, undefeated version that faced Huntingtown last week.
"They were obviously very disappointed with the loss," Lord said. "I guess my feeling as coach is that I really hope they don't allow the [Seneca Valley] match to overshadow what they've accomplished this season. They've done a tremendous job."