After her team's loss to Centennial in the 3A state finals Thursday, the tears that dotted Huntingtown setter Alex Sita's cheeks had little to do with losing the championship and a lot to do with the realization that Sita had played for the ever-improving Hurricanes for the last time.
The loss, by scores of 14-25, 22-25 and 21-25, meant Sita and fellow senior Nicole Agambar are leaving behind a team that in only two years has established itself as one of the state's finest, advancing to the semifinals last season before this year's run to the title game. Even though Huntingtown was unable to overcome the Eagles in the championship match at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum, the season was a success, and those involved with the program feel its future is nothing but bright.
"We know we had a good season, and we know it means a lot to be here, and we're proud of what we accomplished," said Sita, who had 19 assists against Centennial. "I'm personally not upset that we lost; it's more that I'm not coming back next year."
The Hurricanes (16-3) faced an uphill battle from the start against a vastly more experienced Centennial program, which entered the match with 11 state titles on its resume, including the 2004 crown. Understandably nervous at the start, the Hurricanes fell behind 6-1 before getting their feet under them. By then, the Eagles were in position to coast to a relatively easy win in the opening game.
But Huntingtown wouldn't go away, battling Centennial through the second game, which featured eight ties and five lead changes. Outside hitter Jessica Gaetano found her rhythm, connecting for three cross-court kills and one of her two aces in the game, but the Eagles surged late to take a 2-0 lead.
Huntingtown again pressured in the final game, getting out to an 18-13 advantage with players hustling all over the court, but an eight-point run put the Eagles ahead to stay.
"In the first set we didn't know what to expect," Sita said. "But in the second set, we wanted to show them it wasn't going to be an easy game where we would just roll over. We haven't been a team to give up all year."
Despite the loss, the Hurricanes had an outstanding second campaign, losing just twice during the regular season, winning their second 3A South Region title and achieving their goal of making it further than they did in their inaugural year with a 26-24, 22-25, 28-26, 25-12 win over Towson on Tuesday.
"They have to appreciate what they accomplished this season," said second-year coach Cheryl Lord. "They didn't feel they represented themselves very well tonight, and I think we're capable of playing better, but it wasn't a blowout by any means. We're a very young team, and you're playing a team that has won 11 state titles. That can be very intimidating."
Although Huntingtown will lose Sita and Agambar, eight players will be back next season, including Gaetano and fellow outside hitter Andrea Miller, juniors who led the Hurricanes against Centennial with eight and five kills, respectively, and averaged more than two kills each a game during the season.
They will be joined by juniors Kaitlin Ledonne, Meghan Newman and Lauren Fowler, who will be hoping that next season the tears that flow after the final game will be ones of joy -- if they are able, as this year's team was, to win just one more match.