Sometimes sports are about the material successes: wins and losses, bragging rights and records and trophies and plaques.
Then again, sometimes they’re not.
On Nov. 6, longtime coach Shirley Diggs and her High Point High School girls’ volleyball team eliminated Parkdale in four sets to advance to the 4A South Region championship, where the Eagles met county champion Bowie. Though she was asked about it, she brushed off the possibility of the 4A state championship trophy returning to Prince George’s County for the first time since 1979. She barely even mentioned winning in general.
Wednesday’s state semifinal match ended too late to be included in this edition of The Gazette. Check online at www.gazette.net for the result.
But she did point to Keturah Gregory, Erica Kittleson, Grace Biney, Sumintra Sinonan and to a cadre of seniors who, despite being the eldest members age-wise, were some of the most inexperienced on the court. Diggs, no matter the result of the match, is just happy to see them on the floor.
“I’m proud of them. I’m proud,” Diggs said. “I did not expect this team to go this far this year. I have seniors, but I have seniors who I have not played. I have seniors, No. 10 [Gregory}, on my team, she never played. She’s one year. I have one four-year senior on the court.”
The coach swelled with pride when speaking of Gregory, a senior starter in her first year of volleyball that played a pivotal role in halting Parkdale’s season. She busied herself in the middle, swatting down spikes from the 6-foot-3 Christina Oyawale, recording kills off 10 sets from Kittleson and provided some reliable passing.
She “does everything,” according to Diggs, but prior to this fall, Gregory had never done anything on a volleyball court. That, Diggs says, is the ultimate reward when her Eagles take the court.
“One of the things about this team is that none of them have ever played volleyball before,” she said. “They don’t play club ball, they don’t play in camps. I have to take the first three or four weeks and I teach them the game of volleyball. And that’s the difference playing against some of these teams that have club team members. Like Bowie, they have club team members.”
Given how Friday’s 4A South Region title match with the Bulldogs went — a 3-0 sweep in High Point’s favor — Diggs must know something about getting her rookies ready for the big matches, even when the team lining up across the court is laden with club talent. She assembled the team in August, showed them the ropes in her three to four week teaching period through September, and in November, landed High Point’s first state semifinal appearance since 2005, when most of her team was still in elementary school.
“We didn’t expect to come this far,” Biney said. “But it would be the best feeling in the world, us, the class of 2014, to make it, because we worked so hard. We want to graduate not just with a diploma but to say that we won state.”
Entering Wednesday’s game, history was far from High Point’s side.
The most recent Prince George’s County win in a volleyball state semifinal was more than a decade ago, when the 2001 Eleanor Roosevelt team — last year’s 4A county representative — moved on and then lost in the final. In 51 appearances in the state semis, Prince George’s has won just nine. Only the 1979 High Point team has returned home with trophy in hand.
But that’s not the primary, or even secondary, concern for Diggs. Winning is great. Trophies are nice. Teaching a new sport is invaluable.
“I love volleyball, and I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I just — the thing that’s most important to me is that they learn how to play competitive volleyball,” she said. “And in 2005 was when we went to state, and we get beat by those Montgomery County and Howard County powerhouses, but I love to see them learn to play the game of volleyball.
“These girls are tight. They grow together, we work a lot of togetherness. My thing is teach them the game. I want them to learn the game. And you can see that they are learning the game.”