The Urbana High School girls’ volleyball team started its championship season off on a high note by defeating Oakdale 3-1 for the Central Maryland Conference title on Oct. 19. It was the
Hawks’ second victory over the Bears this fall—the only two blemishes on Oakdale’s 16-2 record.
Urbana (16-2 overall, 12-0 region), which made its first state tournament appearance since 2009 last fall and second overall, now has its sights set on winning the program’s first-ever state championship. The Hawks reached their first final a year ago, falling in straight sets to three-time reigning Class 4A state champion Northwest out of neighboring Montgomery County.
With this year’s region realignment, the Hawks find themselves in Class 4A West Region II with the Jaguars and will likely have to get past Northwest just to make it to the state quarterfinals scheduled for Nov. 8-9. But Urbana is up for the challenge, first-year coach Jerry Burge said.
“We’re a good enough team to beat them,” Burge said. “I think (by facing them last year) we learned the importance of preparation, knowing your opponent as best you can and game planning for them. We just need to make sure we’re ready.”
Senior setter Trinity Burge (team-high 144 kills, 123 digs) and sophomore setter/hitter Tatiana Johnson (111 kills, 118 digs) lead Urbana’s two-setter offense predicated on ball control. Much like the point guard position in basketball or the quarterback of a football team, volleyball setters run their team’s offense. They decide who gets the ball, where and when. Therefore, no matter how strong a team’s hitters are, they’re only as good as the setter’s play allows.
Fortunately for Urbana’s hitters, Burge and Johnson are two of the area’s best setters. Through their effective communication, court vision and awareness and extensive overall knowledge of the game, Burge and Johnson consistently put the ball exactly where it needs to be for the Hawks’ hitters to be at their best. And with four starters back from last year’s state final run, experience and team cohesion has been a major strength.
“We have two of the best setters around and that makes a huge difference in what we’re able to do,” Jerry Burge said. “They give our hitters an opportunity to get up and get a good swing.”
Burge’s and Johnson’s ability to control the ball enables Urbana to utilize their talented middle hitter, senior Tera Sackey (69 kills, team-high 40 blocks), whose dominance tends to draw the attention of opposing defenses and create more space for the Hawks’ outside hitters.
Urbana also prides itself on its stingy and disciplined defense, anchored by Penelope Heipler (team-high 201 digs), junior libero Catherine Diaz and senior defensive specialist Sophia Bongiorno (115 digs). The Hawks have lost only 10 of 55 sets played this season (as of Oct. 21).
“Just getting out of the region is going to be hard,” Jerry Burge said. “But we’ve talked about two things: taking it just one game at a time, and taking every opponent seriously. We can’t delude ourselves into thinking we can beat anyone. We have to practice hard every day and the girls have done a great job doing that.”