Kent Island 3 — North Caroline 0 

RIDGELY — The Buccaneers are bound for the state quarterfinals.

Kent Island High’s volleyball team completed a 3-0 sweep over North Caroline on Wednesday evening to win the Class 2A East Region II championship.

The Bucs opened the match with a 9-1 lead and never trailed in Game 1 on their way to winning scores of 25-15, 25-18, 25-22. Despite the sweep, both teams’ heightened level of play entertained fans with long rallies throughout the match.

Game 3 was the most contentious as top-seeded North Caroline pulled within 21-20 on a kill by Kandice Thomas, but the Bucs won four of the final six points to close the match.

Third-seeded Kent Island (10-7) was coming off a 3-0 upset over second-seeded Queen Anne’s in the semifinals on Monday while North Caroline (11-5) defeated Parkside 3-0 in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs had won five straight matches headed into the final.

Kent Island, which lost four of its first six matches during the regular season, has now won three straight. The Bucs last loss was a 3-2 setback to 3A Easton on Oct. 23.

“The girls have been getting better week by week with the hard work that they’ve put in,” Bucs first-year head coach Glenn Brainer said. “We talked about it all year. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Our goal was to be region champions at the beginning of the season. That was the goal. Each week we got better. I think the key is making adjustments, seeing what we needed to work on. And it’s all about how hard the girls worked. They wanted it. They worked hard at practice. They never gave up. When we had a couple losses in a row, we had a tough loss to Easton. We played them five games, lost 16-14. I think that woke them up that they could play with just about anybody.”

Kent Island and seven other region champions will be re-seeded in the state quarterfinals on Friday or Saturday based off their regular-season winning percentages.

A block by Brooke Loveless gave the Bucs side-out and increased their lead to 22-20 in the final game. Miscommunication by North Caroline on the next serve-receive made it 23-20. Grace Schall placed a middle-hit winner on the end line to give the serve back to the Bulldogs, cutting Kent Island’s lead to 23-21. A serving error by North Caroline then moved the Bucs within one point of a win. Madelyn Rorabaugh delayed the outcome when she found an open spot deep in Kent Island’s defense. But a North Caroline mishit then ended a rally and the match as Kent Island’s players, coaches, and fans began their celebration on the court.

“We hit and we served really well tonight,” Kent Island’s Lily Golembieski said. “It was definitely a good game offensively. We just did a good job hustling and diving for balls. We didn’t give up when we got down, kept the rallies going. We did a good job of leveling out at the end, playing calm and collected.”

Emily Blum led the Bucs with eight kills, five aces, and seven digs. Katie Sonneveldt had two aces, seven kills, and three blocks. Golembieski had seven kills and nine digs. Mia Calzada had 13 service points, including four aces, and 12 digs. Setter Kennedy Warren contributed two aces, 16 digs, and 23 assists.

Calzada opened the match with a five-point serving run, including three straight aces, and Oceana Graham added a three-point serving run with a pair of aces as the Bucs built their 9-1 lead. North Caroline bounced back by winning eight of the next nine points to pull within 10-9. Brainer called a timeout and his team responded to take back control. Sonneveldt slammed a kill off a pass from Warren to put the Bucs up 11-9. Sonneveldt then served an ace. Golembieski put down a kill from the left side to the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense, and Emma DiPhilippo recorded a kill after a long rally for a 14-9 Bucs lead. Sonneveldt later put down the Bucs’ 24th point with a right-side kill and the Bulldogs failed to return serve to end the first game.

Kent Island also jumped in front in the second game, this time 4-1, but the Bulldogs fought back to lead 5-4 and the game stayed close until a four-point serving run by Sonneveldt gave the Bucs a 23-17 lead. Golembieski returned the ball to the Bucs for Sonneveldt’s run when she blasted a right-side kill off a feed from Warren. DiPhillippo pushed over a middle-hit winner to increase Kent Island’s lead to 20-17. Golembieski then found some open space deep to the left corner of North Caroline’s defense to make it 21-17. The Bulldogs then failed to return serve and an NC mishit ended a rally that gave the Bucs their 23-17 advantage. Two North Caroline hitting errors provided the Bucs with their final two points, the final one, though, coming after the longest rally of the match.

The largest lead in the final game was just three points, five times, which was also the final margin of victory. North Caroline led 13-10 and 15-12. Kent Island led 18-15 and 23-20 and 24-21 before ending with the 25-22 win.

Brainer gave a lot of credit to his reserves, who have helped Kent Island’s starters get better throughout the season.

“Our second team is the reason why our first team is so good,” he said. “We are very deep. When we scrimmage each other, we’re getting better and better. Our girls that are second team, that don’t start, they’re out there playing their hearts out against the first team to make the first team work harder. And I think that is one of the key reasons why we keep getting better.”

For the Bulldogs, it was a disappointing and emotional end for eight seniors, most of which had played varsity for three years.

“They (Kent Island) have improved immensely,” Bulldogs head coach Amanda Vanskiver said. “It’s so good to play against teams that are good, that are really good, really good volleyball.” She said her team “fought hard and they made adjustments. They just didn’t make adjustments soon enough and they weren’t dedicated to those adjustments because they weren’t normal. They weren’t the normal defense that we play. So, and that’s okay. We had talked about that all week, like when you have to make adjustments and how it’s hard in the game.”

Follow me on Twitter @csknauss / email me at c knauss@stardem.com

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