If you compare year-over-year records, you might think that the Northeast volleyball program, which posted a 15-3 record last season and is 9-7 through 16 games this fall, has suffered a drop-off in talent or ability this season.
Simply not so. The Eagles’ success last year put them into a higher echelon of county and out-of-county competition this fall, and the Northeast girls have still thrived, most recently in a dominant 3-0 home playoff win over Oxon Hill on October 31.
The Eagles, who are Mallorie Hetzel, Sabrina Sheppard, Ryleigh Spiegel, Makayla Belanger, Kylie Plumb, Sydney McCrory, Alia Esposito, Camille Coryatt, Amaya Madarang, Shelby Diggs, Madison Schelfe, Caroline Makarovich, Heather Barlage and Tori Bache, have welcomed the raised level of competition and have improved because of it.
“I’ve been really proud of how much our team has grown,” said McCrory, a senior, prior to practice on November 1. “The start of the season was a little rocky, but we definitely overcame some of the challenges we were having. We lost to some of those harder teams, but we learned a lot from playing Broadneck, Arundel, and we kept up with them pretty well.”
Asked what win stands out the most on the season, the Eagles all agreed that they were more proud and emboldened by a specific loss than any specific win. On October 17, perennial 4A power Severna Park came to campus, likely expecting playing time for their reserves and an easy win over the Eagles.
What the Falcons got instead was a dogfight. Northeast took two sets off Severna Park, and the Eagles made the Falcons sweat it out down to the wire in the fifth set before ultimately losing by a few points and falling in the match, 3-2.
“We haven’t played Severna Park in a while, so the fact that we were able to take them to five sets, obviously you would rather win, but we were able to shock them, and they definitely were not ready for us to show up the way we did,” said head coach Meghan Kulzer. “Other teams haven’t really thought of us as competitive, so kind of being the underdog, starting off strong and surprising our opponents has worked to our advantage.”
Hetzel, a captain along with Sheppard and Spiegel, said the team has learned from the improved competition.
“Falling to those stronger teams really showed us we just have to give it all we got and we’ve got to work harder,” Hetzel said. “We can compete all around, not just in our county. And it made us closer. It showed us we can work together and pull together better.”
Belanger, a senior, agreed, saying, “As a team we’ve really grown and bonded together. Facing these harder teams has made us appreciate ourselves more.”
Last year in the playoffs, the Eagles defeated Stephen Decatur and an undefeated J.M. Bennett team in producing the program’s best playoff finish ever and best all-time overall record.
This year, the Eagles travel once again to Bennett on November 4, with a path to the 3A South Region II final — and the state tournament — right there for them to take.
If teams keep taking Northeast lightly, they might find themselves watching the Eagles march through the bracket.
“Our record doesn’t exactly show it, but there’s more in store, especially now that it’s the playoffs,” said Hetzel.