Sarah Kenneweg and the Poolesville volleyball team are used to playing in a small gym. So imagine their excitement Monday night, when they arrived at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum for the Maryland 2A semifinals.
“Well, you can pass a lot higher,” Kenneweg said, smiling. “You don’t have to worry about that ceiling.”
It didn’t take long for the Falcons to adjust to their new environment. With 11 kills from Rosie Barry, seven from Emily Agate and a combined 15 service aces, they swept Rising Sun, 25-19, 25-15, 25-12. Poolesville never trailed and didn’t use a timeout.
The Tigers “lost their balance,” Poolesville Coach Fran DuVall said. “We obviously had something to do with that, but it’s easier to push when somebody’s wobbling.”
The Falcons (18-0) will return to Ritchie Coliseum on Saturday in search of their first state title since 2008. They will face Patuxent, which defeated Hereford, 25-22, 21-25, 25-13, 28-26, in Monday’s second semifinal.
Poolesville barely had time to scout Rising Sun (18-1) after tangling with Oakdale in the region final just three days earlier. DuVall has been friends with Tigers Coach Rich Wilson for 25 years and knows his coaching tendencies, but that didn’t prevent her from developing “carnivorous” butterflies leading up to the match.
The Falcons shrugged off those expectations, as well as the pressure that comes with playing in a larger venue, by jumping out to a fast start and seizing momentum right away.
“When we get that first push, we just don’t ever want to let them push back,” Barry said. “We try and do small increments and just keep pushing and pushing.”
While the Falcons entered the postseason having dropped just two sets in Montgomery County play, their opponents in Saturday’s title match have taken a more challenging path. Two of Patuxent’s first three playoff matches went to five sets.
“This team never, ever gives up,” Panthers Coach Kevin Keller said. “We dig ourselves holes and then they fight, but the resolve and perseverance is just amazing. And that [speaks] to the character of each one of these girls.”
The Panthers (15-3) have weathered those long matches with seven seniors, led by Chanel Underwood. The 5-foot-6 senior, who is interested in playing collegiately but does not have any offers, finished with 21 kills and seven digs against Hereford (17-3). Seniors Madison Scott (10 kills, six digs, two blocks) and Megan Wentz (six kills, one dig, one block) also had a calming influence on the rest of the team down the stretch.
“We have this thing called the four-second rule where you have amnesia after four seconds,” Underwood said. “You forget about it after four seconds. New ball, new play. And that’s how it’s got to go.”