After pounding the volleyball for yet another kill, Frederick sophomore middle hitter Isabel Koselak put her hands over her mouth.
“I was just really shocked,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting the outcome, I guess.”
This season, the Cadets have pretty much made a habit out of shattering expectations.
Take that Koselak kill. It was part of a remarkable run that saw the Cadets battle back from a 23-16 deficit to take a second set they seemed destined to drop.
And by end of the night, the Cadets had won their first playoff match in nine years and notched their highest win total since 2006, beating visiting Thomas Johnson 25-22, 25-23, 25-14 in the Class 3A West Region I quarterfinals on Thursday.
Frederick advances to the regional semifinals, where it will face North Hagerstown on the road on Monday.
No matter what happens the rest of the postseason, Frederick has already managed its most successful season in years. With an 8-7 record, the Cadets doubled their win total from last season and are enjoying their winningest season since going 9-7 in 2006.
“Compared to last year, it’s crazy how much we’ve improved,” Cadets senior libero Hannah Whang said. “We just have really strong bond, which really helps us on the court to connect, especially with the setters and our hitters. They have a real strong connection, which helps us put the ball down faster.”
The Cadets’ record book reflects such progress. Four Frederick players have set team records this season — Koselak for kills, Meghan Pierle for assists, Whang for digs, and Jordyn Pierce for aces.
“They’re great listeners. They like to learn and they’re eager to learn,” Frederick coach Gabby Enriquez said. “It’s awesome when you have a team that when you say something, they actually put it on the floor.”
The coach said her players endured early morning practices in the preseason, even though they probably didn’t like them.
“That was really stressful and a little tiring, but I knew it would be worth it,” Koselak said.
Pierle said the Cadets also worked with a trainer to improve speed and agility.
That whatever-it-takes mindset surfaces in matches, too, as Cadets like Whang dive and lunge for balls that often seem all-but out of reach.
“As a libero, you have to be willing to touch every ball like it’s your last,” Whang said. “So, go after every ball, not afraid to get a little beat up.”
“We’re putting our bodies on the line for every ball, and it’s working,” Koselak said.
The Cadets weren’t about to abandon that approach when they faced a daunting deficit late in the second set on Thursday.
“In the huddle, we were saying we need to bring up the energy, this could be our last time,” Koselak said. “We wanted to have fun. So we started screaming for every point and cheering each other on, and it brought up our momentum.”
Koselak, who finished with 17 kills and five blocks, played a big role in that comeback and got the final point by hitting the ball to an open spot on the floor. Fellow middle hitter Nia Roberts had four blocks.
“Frederick’s got two solid middles. They were hammering balls on the floor,” TJ coach Brad Blumenauer said. “[The Cadets] played well.”
Whang had four aces, Alexis Melendez had 14 digs and Pierle had 28 assists.
Carleigh Warsing had 12 kills for TJ (2-13), Madi Fernandez had 25 assists and Dena Rovito had 10 digs, while Fernandez and Meghan Barr each had seven.
The young Patriots (2-13) enjoyed leads in the first two sets, but saw Frederick storm back both times.
“Little mental mistakes here and there, kind of a sign of our age a little bit,” Blumenauer said. “But they fought hard in those first two sets.”