Like many a coach in preseason, Steph Garey spoke with optimism.
“My goal is to make it further than we did last year and have a better record than last year, which I 100 percent think we can do,” Colonel Richardson High’s head volleyball coach said in early September. “I think these girls want to do that.”
Garey’s girls certainly proved that Wednesday night, as Colonel traveled to Shiloh and defeated top-seeded North Dorchester, 25-15, 25-9, 21-25, 25-17 for the Class 1A East Region II championship, the Colonels’ first regional crown since 2010.
“Feels really good,” said Garey, a Colonel graduate, of winning the title. “It’s been since 2010 that we’ve won it. I was lucky enough my senior year, 2008, we won the region. So it’s kind of cool that I’ve won it as a player, and then now my girls won it, and I was lucky enough to be the coach of this regional win again, which is awesome. And just seeing how excited the girls were. That was the best part.”
A year after going 6-11 and falling to North Dorchester for a third straight time in the 1A East Section II title match, the sixth-seeded Colonels (9-8) head to No. 3 seed Reginald Lewis High in Baltimore tonight for a 5 p.m. state quarterfinal in the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association’s new postseason format which reseeds the eight regional winners based on their regular-season winning percentage.
And while it’s been nine years since Colonel has played a part at the state level, a four-game skid against the North Bayside’s bigger schools — Easton, Kent Island, North Caroline and Queen Anne’s — could have been the part of the season where the Colonels’ title hopes came unraveled.
Colonel was 4-4 on Oct. 7, when it lost 3-1 to Easton, which would go on to win its second division title and reach the Class 3A South Region II final. Two days later, the Colonels were swept by a Queen Anne’s team that was locked in a three-way battle for the North crown with Easton and North Caroline. Colonel’s slide reached three matches, when it was swept by North Caroline, which was headed for a second-place finish in the division and a spot in the 2A East Region II championship match. Kent Island extended the skid to four on Oct. 16 with a 3-1 victory that started the Bucs on a 5-1 run that continued Wednesday when they won the 2A East Region II championship for their first-ever state berth.
“We have to play harder when we play them,” Garey said of the bigger schools. “I think we play competitively against them, but it’s a little hard to keep our morale up when you lose four straight. As hard as it felt during those four games, I think it was better for us in the long run.”
Tough to argue against that considering Colonel hasn’t lost since, and has won 15 of 18 games during its current 5-0 unbeaten streak that has turned Garey’s preseason forecast into a reality.
“It’s nice that we finally have a whole team of girls who want to do it,” said Garey, when comparing this year’s team and the previous two she’s had as Colonel’s head coach. “I’ve had girls in the past that say, they want to do it, they want to do it. But we’re actually showing and performing that we want to do it. We’re actually doing what we say we want to, and we’re working hard.
“Our morale, our friendships on the team. ... this is probably one of the best group of girls that I’ve had,” Garey said. “All of my girls have gotten along (in previous years), but this group really. ... they mesh well together, they pick each other up. And that’s been a huge thing. They all want to do it. They all have a goal and we’ve all been working toward the same goal which is nice.”
That goal was tested though Wednesday against North Dorchester. The Eagles had ended Colonel’s last three seasons in the playoffs, but had lost 3-1 and 3-0 this regular season.
“I think beating them twice during regular season gave us so much confidence going into yesterday’s game,” Garey said. “That confidence is what we’ve needed for a long time to step up and do the job.
“But we still knew going in after beating them twice, they’re a good team; they could have beat us just as easily,” Garey continued. “So we needed to work hard because, I hate to say it, but what happens in regular season could be totally different than what happens in playoffs.”
It didn’t look that way in the first two games, as Colonel won 25-15 and 25-9. But North Dorchester bounced back to take the third game, hoping to stir possible doubt in the Colonels.
“After game three we were a little down,” Garey admitted. “I think we were more frustrated with ourselves that we let game three go. And I just kept telling them, ‘We don’t want to go five against this team because that’s going to be a lot to handle.’
“We knew what we needed to fix from game three,” Garey said. “And we stepped up and we fixed it. Our passing got better. Our talking increased and our aggressiveness increased. That’s what we needed to happen and they did it.”
Colonel returned to the court and pieced together a 25-17 answer in Game 4 to seal the region title and punch its state ticket.
Alexis Bates had four aces and three kills, and Hope Kraus finished with 11 assists and four aces for Colonel. Aubrie Meredith had eight kills and a pair of aces, and Kayla Peterson added six aces and three kills.See COLONEL Page