The Montgomery Blair High School boys volleyball team had been there before, leading two games to none against Thomas S. Wootton.
The Blazers lost that lead in a season-opening defeat, their only loss of the season.
Blair did not let history repeat itself in Thursday’s county championship final, held at Col. Zadok Magruder High.
The Blazers won their second consecutive county title, 25-22, 25-16, 25-22 over the previously unbeaten Patriots.
“That third game got really close,” said Blair coach Chris Liang. “It’s like we got too comfortable and then relaxed. We were up like 22-14 in the third game and then they made a run to 22-19. I called time out and was like, ‘Don’t let up. You’ve got to push through, I don’t care if we’re up by 20 points.’”
A well-rounded performance propelled Blair Thursday. Andrew Zhang smacked 22 kills and accounted for all three of the team’s aces. Tony Liang added eight kills, and the team’s strongest defensive player, Ricci Huang, tallied six.
But Chris Liang said a lot of credit also goes to first-year setter, William Cai.
The setter, Liang said, is like a football team’s quarterback or a basketball team’s point guard. He is the floor general, responsible for setting things in motion.
Cai stepped into the integral role and adjusted quickly, filling the shoes of Robert Huang, who played the position at Blair for four years before graduating last spring.
“The setter determines who hits the ball and who doesn’t and has to control it in terms of how high he sets the ball and where he places it,” Liang. “[Cai] did very well [Thursday]. He was thrown into a tough spot.”
Cai’s ability to jell with his teammates helped the Blazers improve as the season progressed, Zhang said, adding that Blair’s early loss to Wootton was a wakeup call that humbled the Blazers and helped them focus on their ultimate goal.
The Patriots possess an explosive attack, led by hitters Paul Malinauskas, Jeffrey Qiu and Henry Zhou. But Wootton had trouble controlling play the way it normally does, said coach John Hartranft.
“The game plan was to do the things we do well, and that’s ball control and use our multiple weapons on our attack and good defense. I would say maybe 30 percent of that was working [Thursday],” he said. “It’s always nice to win at the end of the season but the fact that we lost a volleyball game at the end of the season doesn’t take anything away from these guys.”