They wanted to win to put last year’s playoff upset loss to Middletown behind them forever.
They wanted to win to give Williamsport its 13th state volleyball championship.
But more than anything, the Wildcats wanted to win for Sam.
With the tragic death of Samantha Rae Kelly — who was killed along with Brendon Colliflower in an auto accident in May following their senior Prom — fresh in their minds, the Wildcats paid tribute to her the best way they could: By winning a state title.
Just like Williamsport’s baseball team won the Class 2A title while grieving the loss of Colliflower last spring, the volleyball team realized its dream on Monday night, sweeping Calvert 25-22, 25-23, 25-22 in the Class 2A final at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum.
“I kind of feel like we cheated this year because we had seven on the court instead of six,” said Emily Crabtree, who has coached Williamsport to five of its 13 titles. “The feeling right now is nothing like any of those (titles). If you don’t believe now ... you got to believe.”
“It felt like we had to win because both us and the baseball team had higher powers working,” said senior star Stacey Christy, who had a match-high 16 kills.
“She loved this sport more than anybody,” junior Courtney Malott said. “It’s the least we can do, is win.”
The Wildcats (19-1) opened the match by using runs of 5-0 and 6-0 to take a 13-3 lead against the stunned Cavaliers (15-2). Christy had four kills and a block in the first 16 points, while Williamsport’s serves and hits prevented Calvert from being able to run its bread-and-butter quick middle offense.
“It was definitely nerves to start, especially on serve receive,” Calvert coach Tim Smith said. “Serving and passing are the parts of the game that can get into your head, especially when there’s nerves.”
Williamsport’s lead grew to 21-10 before the Cavaliers clawed back to try to make a set of it, using an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 24-22. But the hole was too big and a Calvert hitting error — the last of 14 by the Cavaliers in the set — ended the comeback.
The Wildcats took control of Set 2 with a 7-1 run for a 13-8 lead. After Calvert cut it to 15-13, Williamsport pulled away with a 7-0 run for a 22-13 advantage.
But the Wildcats went through a lull, making seven errors in a 9-0 Cavaliers run that tied the set at 22.
“We struggled throughout this season holding onto the lead,” said Crabtree. “We play better when we’re behind and have to dig deep.
“We were trying a little too hard and I told them to relax ... and let the game come to you.”
Malott gave Williamsport a 23-22 lead when she found the back left corner with a push shot for the last of her four kills in the set. Christy’s block gave the Wildcats set point at 24-22, and after Rachel Hornick put away the last of her five kills in the set for Calvert, Karli Grimes found the back corner with a cross-court kill to give Williamsport a two-set lead.
“We play under pressure,” Crabtree said. “That’s how we played all year. We like that challenge. We seem to come together and pull through.”
Set 3 was closer throughout, although Williamsport never relinquished the lead after a 6-2 run gave the Wildcats a 12-8 advantage. Christy was at her best with eight kills and a block in the set, and Grimes had three kills.
Leading 22-21, Christy found a hole in the front left of the Cavaliers’ defense with a flat-footed attack for a 23-21 lead. After a Calvert kill cut the lead to one again, Christy ended a long rally with a hard shot to put Williamsport on the doorstep.
The match ended when Grimes went sprawling to keep a Calvert kill attempt alive. The dig went back across the net and caught the Cavaliers off-guard — and the Wildcats started celebrating.
“It’s a dream come true,” said junior setter Emily Taylor, who had 28 assists.
It completed a Washington County trifecta, with Smithsburg (1A) and North Hagerstown (3A) having won their state titles on Friday.
“The fact all three teams in the county (who reached the state tournament) won, it’s crazy,” said senior Haley Wolff, who had six kills.
Malott finished with seven kills and Grimes had five for the Wildcats, who finished with 37 kills, four blocks, three aces and 22 errors. Calvert had 33 kills, five blocks, seven aces and 31 errors.
Williamsport’s 13 state titles are just one short of Centennial’s 14 for the most in state history. It’s the Wildcats first championship since 2005, when they won the last of four straight 1A crowns.
“What an awesome feeling,” Crabtree said. “We worked hard all season for this and they played their hearts out ... and their butts off. We wanted it. It just feels good.”