“I was like, okay, so they have to be good in some sort of sense,” she said.
Exactly how good the Jaguars were this season was a shock not only to the 6-foot junior from California, but also to her coaches and teammates. Northwest (20-0) went undefeated en route to a Maryland 4A state title, its first in school history, and the top spot in the final Post volleyball rankings.
The Jaguars were a title contender well before they stepped foot inside Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland. The 2014 state finalists brought everybody back, and then some, including a deep senior class, two impact freshmen (Jenaisya Moore, Rachael Bennett) and the talented transfer from Bishop O’Dowd.
“I knew that we were gonna be really good, but I knew that there were going to be challenges and one of the biggest challenges was that we were so good,” said Coach Stephanie Blake, whose sister, Tara Smith, was an assistant. “They always just dug down really deep.”
The Jaguars overcame the few obstacles that were in their way. In a regular season match, they trailed Gaithersburg by two sets before completing the comeback victory. Against Sherwood, they dropped the first set and then won in four. In the state semifinals, they avenged last year’s final loss by defeating defending champion No. 5 Severna Park in four sets.
Though some matches were tough, Mayer said the hardest competition was themselves. Playing against each other in practices helped prepare the Jaguars for the tough Montgomery County schedule and the rigors of the postseason.
“I feel like I play against the best. My teammates are some of the best people I ever played against,” Mayer said. “When we get to the hard teams, it’s like, this is just like practice.”
Mayer will be practicing with a new set of teammates next season. The Jaguars have nine seniors, including outside hitters Gabby Bennett, Emma Liller, serving specialist Chaya Riggs, and middle hitter Biamba Tshitenge. But the state championship expectations remain the same, Mayer said.
“That crossed my mind the moment I stepped on the court. My team is half seniors,” Mayer said. “It’s training time right now.”
Stone Bridge won 15 of its last 16 matches en route to capturing its first Virginia 5A state title, beating Potomac Falls in five sets in the final. . . . Holy Cross won its fourth straight WCAC title. . . . Loudoun County rolled to its fourth straight Virginia 4A championship and state-record eighth overall. . . . Severna Park ran its win streak to 43 matches before falling to eventual champion Northwest in the Maryland 4A semifinals. . . . In their fifth meeting of the season, Madison fended off conference rival and Virginia 6A North region champ Langley in five sets to win its first state title. . . . Potomac Falls won its first Virginia 5A North region title and made its first state final appearance to cap Linda Lachey-Helms’ stellar coaching career. . . . Flint Hill shook off a slow start to sweep the ISL AA, Metro City and VISAA Division I championships for a second straight year. . . . Battlefield notched a school-record 22 wins en route to its first Virginia Conference 8 title.
1. Northwest (20-0) Last ranked: 1
2. Stone Bridge (25-3) LR: 3
3. Loudoun County (24-2) LR: 5
4. Madison (23-6) LR: NR
5. Severna Park (23-1) LR: 2
6. Langley (25-6) LR: 10
7. Potomac Falls (21-9) LR: 9
8. Flint Hill (22-7) LR: NR
9. Holy Cross (33-5) LR: 4
10. Battlefield (22-4) LR: 7
Dropped out: No. 6 Briar Woods (22-5), No. 8 Good Counsel (25-5-1)
On the bubble: Good Counsel, Middleburg Academy (30-2), Northern (21-0), Woodgrove (16-7)