Jen Powell had experienced championship seasons plenty of times before.
But those had always been in softball.
Never had Powell sensed a championship season percolating with Easton High’s volleyball team. And even during a year of firsts did the Warriors’ longtime head coach feel her team was moving toward titles it had never won before.
“I don’t know that I did,” Powell said when asked if there was a certain point she felt 2018 was Easton’s year. “When we started the year I thought like I do every year: ‘We’re going to be competitive. We’re going to be good.’ And as the year went on I just saw them getting more confident and stronger. And it just all came together.”
By the time Powell’s crew had finished pulling things together, Easton had posted records never before seen in its volleyball history: 16-2 overall — 10-0 North Bayside. It won its first division championship. It won its first Bayside Conference title since the conference had been founded in 1971, then advanced to its first regional championship.
“Honestly I think the love and support of each other,” Powell said, referring to the keys of success. “I know I’ve said this before — they considered each other sisters and family. And when you have that kind of bond, I mean you don’t even have to hardly speak to know what the other is thinking. And it was a huge difference.”
Powell, who was named the All-Mid-Shore Coach of the Year, felt good about her team as it reached the season’s midway point at 7-0. But a second go-around through the North included dates with perennial division contender North Caroline, two-time defending North champion Queen Anne’s County, and a formidable Kent Island team.
“It was always a matter of, ‘OK well, we beat them the first time. We have to go back out and continue to play as hard and as aggressive to make it happen again,’” Powell said.
The Warriors notched consecutive sweeps of North Caroline and Pocomoke before defeating Queen Anne’s, 3-1, pushing their record to 12-0. The unbeaten season ended five days later with a 3-1 loss to defending conference champion James M. Bennett. But Easton rebounded two days after with a 3-1 victory over Kent Island that made it the first school outside Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties to win the North Bayside since Kent County in 1984.
The rebound continued. The Warriors swept Bennett for their first Bayside championship, polished off Queen Anne’s in three in a Class 2A East Section II semifinal, then defeated Parkside, 3-2 — its only five-set match of the season — to claim their first sectional title. Easton’s first trip to a region final ended with a 3-0 loss to Rising Sun, which won its sixth straight 2A East championship.
“It was a pleasurable season to have,” Powell said.
It was also a pleasure to have junior Myia Jeter, who developed into a force while earning the All-Mid-Shore Player of the Year.
“A little bit of maturity and definitely a lot of confidence,” Powell said, sizing up the difference between Jeter’s sophomore and junior seasons. “Her freshman year she played a little bit outside, but was mostly a setter for me. And then (sophomore) year she got moved to middle. Middle is not an easy position to play, and getting use to it (takes time). (Last) year she came out more confident and was able to play middle and set for me.”
Over time Jeter got better. Then she got focused.
“Obviously she’s a tremendous athlete in general,” Powell said of Jeter, who is also a basketball and lacrosse standout. “But she was very focused, and had told me at one point at the end of the season, ‘I wanted to be better than last year. And I want to be better every day.’ And I was like, ‘Works for me.’ I like that.”
That focus helped the middle back/setter develop better court sense while finishing the year with 51 aces, 254 kills, 34 blocks, 130 assists and 97 digs.
“More than doubled,” Powell said of Jeter’s court sense. “There were times (sophomore) year where she was kind of not really sure where she was. This year she knew where she was at all times. She didn’t even have to look or realize. She could just follow the game.”
Here’s a look back at the 2018 team:
Caitlin Pfeiffer, Jr. Queen Anne’s
“She was a standout for us,” Lions head coach Kim Betts said. “Dynamic at the net. We were confident that if we could get her the ball that she would put it down.”
Pfeiffer led Queen Anne’s in kills (121), hitting percentage (.548) and digs (146). She also had 26 aces for the Lions, who finished 8-7.
Lily Golembeski, Jr., Kent Island
One of the Bucs’ top all-around players, Golembeski finished the year with 96 kills, 52 blocks and 48 aces.
“She was one of the top blockers in the Northern Bayside,” said Glen Brainer, an assistant for Kent Island last season. “She brings leadership with her ability to hit the ball anywhere on the court and awesome serve.”
Maddie Tisher, Jr., Queen Anne’s
The Lions’ most improved player totaled 87 kills, 35 blocks, 120 digs, 39 aces and a .315 hitting percentage.
“She made tremendous growth from last season and really stepped up to be a leader for us,” Betts said. “She played all the way around so she contributed to our offense and our defense.
Josie Stockman, Sr., Easton
Tallied a team-high 79 aces, 104 digs, 263 assists and 11 kills
“Great senior leader,” Powell said. “Brought a lot of heart to the game, wanting to help instruct and have the team get better and better every day.”
Haley Stallings, Sr., Queen Anne’s
One of two returning starters for the Lions, Stallings wracked up 248 assists to go with 141 digs and 50 aces.
“She was definitely our captain, our general on the court,” Betts said. “She kept us in the system. She did a really nice job balancing our offense.”
Leann Asplen, Sr., North Dorchester
Asplen helped the Eagles go 12-6 and reach their third straight 1A East Region final, where the lost to Perryville.
“Leann was one of my setters,” Eagles head coach Carol Hubbard said. “But she was also one of my leaders in kills, so when she played front row she was a really strong hitter for me, and was a super consistent server.”
Alexis Bates, Jr., Col. Richardson
Bates netted 47 aces and 35 kills for a team that lost to North Dorchester in the 1A East Section II final for a third consecutive year.
“She was always hard working; dedicated,” Colonel Richardson head coach Stephanie Garey said. “She did everything she could to help her team win. She was very consistent for our serving and attacking throughout the whole season.”
Kate Chapple, So., Easton
A key addition to the varsity, Chapple finished with 31 aces, 929 percent, 12 kills, three blocks, 14 assists, 98 digs.
“She brought a lot of heart to the team,” Powell said. “She worked hard every day and wanted to be the best. And probably between her and Emily (Griffith) one of the two that I could count on to, you know, we’re going to have a few points here while she’s serving, because she’s going to put it where she wants it.”
Taiyana Goldsborough, Sr., Kent County
“Taiyana was small in stature but played as big as her heart and love for the game,” Trojan head coach Michelle Phillips wrote in a text. “She will be so missed. Her shoes are small but filling them will be hard.”
Goldsborough finished with 375 digs.
Desiree Hanks, Sr., Kent Island
Another of the Bucs’ leaders, Hanks finished with 138 digs.
“Probably one of the best defensive players we’ve had up to this point,” Brainer said. “Great defensive player. Great leader. I had her as a freshman and she was a star from day one.”
Jenna Usilton, Sr., North Dorchester
“Jenna was back row only most of the year, but led the team in digs, and she was our leader for aces with serving,” Hubbard said. “She wracked up I believe it was 101 aces. She’s our first girl to break 100 aces in a season.”
Usilton signed to play at Wesley (Del.) College this season.
Outside hitters: Jade Williams, So., Easton; Ka’Nyha Raikes, Sr., Col. Richardson; Middle Blockers: Emily Griffith, Jr., Easton; Jennifer Larrimore, Sr., Colonel Richardson; Setters: Bethani Doyle, Sr., Kent Island; Madelyn Rorabaugh, Jr., North Caroline; Libero/Defensive specialists: Alyssa Sofinowski, Jr., Queen Anne’s; Sammie King, Jr., Kent County.
Kent County: Lisa Robinson Jr.; Bianca Potts, Fr.; Cameron Spence, So.; Yamine Jiggetts, Jr.; North Caroline: Camryn Pepper, Jr; Ashley Blake, Jr.