The years pass, faces change, and yet the elation never subsides for Wilson's volleyball team.
The Tigers still cared; still flooded the court in a frenzied embrace; still stomped and screamed like some invisible weight had been lifted from their shoulders after their 25-10, 25-7, 16-25, 25-15 victory over Bell yesterday in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championship match at Dunbar.
Of course, Wilson had been here before. The victory gave the Tigers their seventh straight conference title. But to them, it might as well have been their first.
"It doesn't get old," senior Amarachi Umez-Eronini said. "I realized back when I was a freshman that you have to play this game with a lot of heart. I've seen what it takes to win a championship, and that's what motivates me to play my hardest."
Umez-Eronini would probably be the authority on Wilson's success, having wrapped up her decorated four-year career with the win. Once a raw talent who survived on her basketball abilities, the 5-foot-10 middle hitter had a game-high 22 kills, a sign of how far she's come since her freshman year.
"You know she's our go-to hitter," Wilson Coach Perette Arrington said. "For most teams their go-to hitter is their left-side hitter, but we go to Amarachi in the middle. We definitely depended on her. With her level of play, she needed to step up her game, and that brought everyone else up with her."
Wilson's DCIAA season was more competitive than it has been in recent years, with the Tigers suffering their first conference loss in five years in a regular season match against Dunbar. Still, Wilson used its considerable height advantage over Bell up front to win the first two games rather handily.
But behind the serving of junior Karla Rivera (eight aces), Bell took control of the third game, adding some intrigue to what had looked like another easy Wilson victory.
"That's one thing we've struggled with all year," Arrington said. "Once we get a lead, we start to relax. I keep trying to tell them they cannot relax. You play until the final whistle, but that comes with experience. Any good team will come back on you."
For some of the Tigers, this was their first conference title match. Junior setter Elizabeth Kastanaki was one of them, but her play indicated otherwise. She finished with a game-high 15 aces, including six during a fourth-game stretch in which Wilson erased a two-point deficit.
"I thought that if we just got a couple of points ahead that we could stay ahead and win the fourth game," Kastanaki said. "Then we'd be going home with our seventh championship."
For the Griffins, simply making the title game had its own value. Under first-year coach Louis Carias, they started the season with the minimum six players needed to field a team, and with that same group came within two games of a conference title.
"This team has such heart," Carias said. "They've done it all year long, through tremendous odds; they've just worked so hard. They surprised me even. They just brought it to another level today."