There are 13 players on the Thomas S. Wootton High School volleyball roster, a standard number. Midway through the third set in Friday night’s regional final with Winston Churchill, eight players had recorded at least one kill, five had multiple, and two had already eclipsed 10.
That is unusual.
There may have been a birthday girl (Jessica Wang turned 16 on Monday), but there was no superstar for the Patriots Friday night, or any other night of the year for that matter. That much was made clear by Wang’s 20 kills, Lauren Martin’s 18, the remaining six players’ combined 18, the setter-by-committee strategy, and a devastating amount of rally-killing digs from standout libero Emily Meyer.
Together, through the collective efforts of just about every player donning the Wootton white uniforms, the Patriots pulled out a 3-1 (25-20, 22-25, 25-23, 25-22) victory against the Bulldogs, advancing to their first state semifinal appearance since 2007. They lost to Broadneck in five in the finals that season.
“It’s amazing. We haven’t done this in a long time,” said Martin, the southpaw who had a team-high seven kills in the final set. “At the beginning of the season we never thought we could actually pull it off so we’re really excited.”
The Patriots’ bullish expectations for the year are a nod to their lack of experience. Meyer is the only senior starter. The rest were either on junior varsity or were underclassmen stepping into big shoes on the varsity stage last year.
“The wonderful thing is that we can attack from every spot on the court,” coach Mary Malinauskas said. “Front row, back row. Jessica Wang is — she can do everything. And Lauren Martin, we call her ‘the big goon,’ she’s strong and she’s smart. Those two have really been leading us but the reason they’re open all the time is because we have four other girls who can hit the ball.”
With three-time defending champion Sherwood eliminated in Wednesday night’s upset loss to Howard, the Class 4A race is open. Wootton hasn’t been this far in six years (Wang’s older sister, Helena, was a member of the 2007 Patriot team). Severna Park, which swept South River in the 4A East, makes its first visit to Ritchie Coliseum in more than a decade. Howard was the presumptive favorite and then proceeded to lose to Dulaney, 3-1, which hasn’t been to Ritchie since Wootton’s last trip. And up in the 4A South, High Point will be making its run at Prince George’s County’s first state title since 1979.
Long story short, no player in the 4A state semifinals has been there before. Anything can happen.
For now, Wang is much less concerned with Wednesday’s semifinal than she was about the best birthday present she said she has received in 16 years’ worth of them — a regional championship.
“This is the best birthday weekend,” a supremely excited Wang said after her 20th kill sealed the deal for Wootton. “I’m so happy. I’m so proud of my team. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Asked if that team would be doing anything special for the junior hitter’s Sweet 16, Malinauskas responded: “We just did.”
Wootton 3, Churchill 1
Wootton (15-2) 25 22 25 25 — 3
Churchill (13-3) 20 25 23 22 — 1
Wootton — Jessica Wang 20; Lauren Martin 18; Heather Bolze 7; Colleen McKenna 4; Catherine Liu 2; Emily Meyer 2; Jenny Yang 2; Gracie Gesiskie 1.
Churchill — Kaitlyn Hillard 18; Sarah Chang 11; Olivia Chao 8; Ting Ting Sun 3; Epiphany Charles 1.