COLLEGE PARK — On Wednesday, Oakdale volleyball players took the court at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum for a state semifinal match for the first time in two years.
Truth be told, the Bears felt like they should’ve been on this very stage last year because they returned many key players from a team that won the 2017 state title. But they ended up losing in the regional tournament, and many of those same key players were back again this year.
“We talked about that at the beginning of the year,” Oakdale coach Jim Dorsch said. “I think I only mentioned that two or three times during the season, but I know that these guys were focused on that.”
The Bears weren’t going to be deterred in their quest to return to states this time, not even when senior Sydney Katz — their standout setter — suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the regional playoffs. And their motivation wasn’t about to drop off once they actually got to the final four.
Storming out to big leads in all three sets, Oakdale rolled to a 25-15, 25-17, 25-15 win over La Plata in the Class 2A state semifinals. Senior Cora Wasilko’s tip kill produced the match-winning point, allowing the Bears to return to a venue that’s been on their radar all season.
“This entire year we’ve been saying that it’s the road to Ritchie, and here we are,” Oakdale sophomore Elise Smith said.
“It was, ‘We’re coming back here to take care of business,’” Dorsch said. “We have so far, and we have one more match to do that.”
That match is the state championship match, where the Bears will face Century — which beat Rising Sun 25-12, 25-22, 25-23 in the other semifinal — at noon on Saturday.
Oakdale seized momentum immediately, taking a 4-0 lead. That stretch included an ace from Jenna Harding, setting the tone on a night when strong serving proved essential for the Bears.
“We had some really good servers putting serves in the seams and just making them really struggle,” Dorsch said. “Jess [Twilley] had an awesome night tonight with her topspin serve. They probably haven’t seen many of those.”
As she’s done all season, Twilley did all sorts of things for the Bears, finishing with a team-high 12 digs along with seven kills. But the senior’s serves, which produced a team-high five aces, often helped Oakdale put together momentum-building runs.
“The topspin is something I’ve been working on. I started doing it last year in club, and I got a ton of reps over the travel season,” she said. “I’ve just got to take my deep breath before I throw up the toss and try to hit my spot.”
Twilley wasn’t the only server doing damage. Jen Chomiak had four aces, including one on the match’s second-to-last point, and Harding finished with three.
Chomiak, a lefty, also was a force at the net, pounding a team-high 12 kills. No surprise there — she’s been doing such things for years. But unlike in the past, she wasn’t getting sets from Katz.
With Katz sidelined, the Bears had Smith and Harding split setting duties. Each finished with 11 assists.
Smith admitted she was a little nervous, although she got support from teammates.
“At the beginning of the year, if you would’ve told her that she was setting in a state semifinal and now a state final, she would’ve laughed at you,” Dorsch said.
Katz was at the match. She’s been helping tutor Smith and Harding. She’s also given extra inspiration to the Bears, who had T-shirts printed up that read, “Do It For Syd.” Oakdale freshman Rhian Evans’ mother came up with the idea for the shirts, which touched Katz.
“She bursted into tears,” Chomiak said of the senior’s reaction when she got her first glimpse of the shirts. “We know it’s hard for Sydney. We wouldn’t have gotten here without her throughout the season.”
Oakdale benefited from consistent blocking and strong back row play. Chomiak had eight digs. Libero Gabby Barth had nine digs, including one that sailed over the net for an overpass kill.
“I was like, ‘OK, I’ll take it,’” said Barth, adding that Oakdale’s back row play is honed in tough practices. “We have amazing hitters that we’re able to use on defense to get better.”