When members of the seventh-ranked Sherwood volleyball team arrived in Ellicott City on Wednesday, they found themselves in unfamiliar territory.
Sherwood and Howard hadn’t met on a volleyball court in more than a decade, or at least since Howard Coach Grant Scott took over in 1999. The eighth-ranked Lions moved from Maryland 3A to 4A at the beginning of this season, and that meant their postseason path included a meeting with the three-time defending champions from Montgomery County.
The match was more befitting of the state title rather than a 4A North region semifinal. After dropping two close sets, Howard rallied past the Warriors in a lopsided fourth set and rode that momentum into the fifth to get the win, 25-14, 26-28, 23-25, 25-9, 15-5.
Howard (15-1) will meet Dulaney in the region final either Friday or Saturday with a trip to the state semifinals at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum on the line.
“Dulaney’s no slouch,” Scott said as his team celebrated on the court, “but this one was big.”
Coming from different counties and, until this season, different classifications, neither team really knew what to expect. The Warriors (19-3) tried to prepare for Maryland-bound outside hitter Sydney Biniak, who had 18 kills in the team’s region quarterfinal win over Blake. Scott, meanwhile, sought out video of Sherwood to better prepare his team.
In the video, Scott noticed that the Warriors used a unique blocking alignment that left a gaping hole on the far side of the net. Biniak used that knowledge, sprinkling in soft taps among her otherwise thunderous 25 kills.
“We knew they switched their outside and their setter, which was really strange for us,” Biniak said. “We just tried to adjust to that from what little we knew about them.”
Howard also proved to be the more battle-tested team after closing out the regular season with close matches against Centennial and Glenelg. When the Lions dropped the third set on a serve that landed out of bounds, there was no panic.
“They said, ‘We can come back from this. We’ve done it before,’” Scott said. “There was no hesitation. They knew if they played their game, they could win.”
They also controlled the net. While Biniak drew the loudest cheers from the home crowd, Howard’s front line quietly accounted for 17 blocks, including five from senior Maya Hairston.
“It helps Sydney not feel like she’s the only one on the team,” Hairston said. “She knows that we can help her. It really brings the team together.”. . .
Elsewhere in state tournament play, Broadneck and South River met for the third time in two weeks in the 4A East region with the Seahawks coming out on top. They will host Severna Park, which knocked off 2012 state runner-up Arundel in five sets, in the region final.
High Point, Bowie, Churchill and Wootton also advanced in the Maryland 4A bracket on Wednesday night.