The Urbana High School girls’ volleyball team avenged last year’s 3-1, Class 4A North Region Section II final loss to Montgomery County’s Sherwood High by dismissing the four-time state champion Warriors 3-0 in the same round earlier this month on its way to the program’s first-ever state final appearance. Though the Hawks ultimately fell in three sets to Northwest (Montgomery County), which became the first Class 4A program to win four straight championships since 1989, this year’s historic run could change the course of Urbana volleyball.
“We finally proved to ourselves that we can do it,” said junior setter/outside hitter Trinity Burge. “Every year our coach (Kayla Martin) would tell us we were going to states and we were just like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ But now we’ve shown ourselves that we can, that we’re tougher than any obstacle.”
And the Hawks’ season was not without its challenges. Two weeks before the start of playoffs, freshman setter Tatiana Johnson underwent surgery for a ruptured appendix. Martin pulled Cathryn Diaz from role as junior varsity libero—a defensive specialist—and with an open mind, supportive teammates and hard work, the younger sister of Hawks stalwart defender Clarisse Diaz transformed herself into a varsity setter.
“Losing Tatiana was a big deal, but our ability to come back strong after that setback, it just goes to show the (positive) attitude and the hard work of this team,” Burge said. “The varsity game is a lot faster than the junior varsity game and (Cathryn) was not a traditional setter but she really stepped into that role.”
With a plethora of consistent hitters and strong defense, Martin didn’t settle on one set, conventional lineup. Rather, the Hawks moved around on offense, giving opposing defenses different looks to keep them on their heels. While having such flexibility was a major part of this year’s success, it also helped create more well-rounded athletes. There was always someone ready and waiting for their opportunity, Burge said.
In addition to the Hawks’ versatility, universal trust among teammates—the understanding that no one person alone can win a game but that each player must take care of her own role—was a game-changing intangible this fall, Martin and Burge agreed. It was the X Factor Urbana needed to catapult the program onto the bigger stage. And with all but this year’s three seniors slated to return in 2019, the Hawks plan to stay there.
“We’ve had the tools (to make states) in past years, but this year we were really unified as a team, which took us to the next level,” Burge said. “We will have essentially the same group next year, even though our three seniors were key players. But now that we know we have the ability to make states, we think we can be right back there next year. Maybe we’ll see Northwest again and we’ll be better for (this year’s) loss.”