Undefeated Northwest Volleyball Eyeing Return Trip to State Finals

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Northwest came up one game short of the ultimate prize last year, losing to Severna Park in the MPSSAA 4A state finals.

Coming into this year, head coach Stephanie Blake expected this year's team to replicate that success. The Jaguars did not graduate anyone from last year's team, and added a few promising underclassmen who have helped the squad. The team has lived up to expectations, going 14-0, only dropping three sets throughout the entire season.

"We are very deep, we don't depend on one person. So if someone is off or having a bad day we have five others on the court who we can count on," said Blake. "It doesn't end there as we have a very talented bench too that is ready to go and step in when necessary."

Northwest is so deep in fact, that Blake struggled with saying who her top players were because of how strong her whole squad is. While she did eventually name seniors Gabby Bennett, Emma Liller and Biamba Tshitenge, as well as sophomore Janiece Jefferies and freshman Jenaisya Moore as players to keep an eye on, Blake also felt it was pertinent to mention the team's culture as one of its main strengths.

"We have great team chemistry, most of our seniors are best friends off the court too," said Blake. "Everyone is positive and just there for each other, both in their personal lives and on the court. We have a truly special group."

The team's ability to stay positive was needed early in the season when the Jaguars fell behind against Gaithersburg 2-0. Needing to win the next three sets to win the game, the team worked together as one to stage a comeback, beating Gaithersburg 3-2.

That moment was a big one for Blake. Any team who had the success that Northwest did in 2014 is open to spells of complacency. That was something that Blake was concerned could plague her team this season, but the Jaguars have done a good job of remaining focused on winning.

"They've made it easy. They know what needs to be done to get to the state championship. It doesn't matter what team we are playing, they always have to bring their best," said Blake. "They're all just very determined and focused individuals."

The team is going to need that determination and focus over the next few weeks. The volleyball state tournament begins next week, and Northwest is hoping they'll be able to build off what they did last year and take it a step further. After getting so close last year, and with a strong senior presence this season, it would be the perfect season for the Jaguars to win their first state championship in volleyball.

To get there though, Northwest knows that they'll have to survive a lot of tough games.

"The girls know that just because we were there last year doesn't guarantee anything this year," said Blake. "Hard-work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
October 29th, 2015By: Wick Eisenberg

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