Northern goes down swinging in Maryland 3A volleyball final


BEL AIR, Md. — Even when things looked the most dire, Northern senior Maya Johnson never stopped swinging. Not when North Hagerstown took the first set of the Maryland 3A volleyball final Wednesday night and certainly not when the Patriots were down nine points in the fourth and ultimately final set.

Johnson, the focal point of Northern’s attack, finished with 25 kills, but it wasn’t enough against North Hagerstown, which took the championship, 25-23, 23-25, 25-14, 25-15, at Harford Community College’s APGFCU Arena.

Northern Coach Bobby Gibbons planned to use Johnson’s height and hitting power against North Hagerstown’s Aubrey Chamberlin, who is undersized for a setter at 5-foot-6. The Patriots took advantage of the matchup all night, with setter Reese Courtney frequently setting Johnson close to the pin.

“Maya is absolutely one of the best hitters in the state,” Gibbons said. “That was our game plan was if we go down, we’re going down with the best we got, and if somebody beats our best, then you just tip your hat to the other team and congratulate them on winning.”

The first two sets were largely point-for-point, and neither team led by more than five. The Hubs took the first and the Patriots the second by the same score, after which the players on Northern’s bench ran onto the court to try to maintain the momentum.

Instead, the Hubs came out strong in the third set. Outside hitter Gabrielle Grantham-Medley’s tough hits kept getting through the Patriots’ defense to give North Hagerstown a 21-8 lead. The Patriots looked a bit slow on defense. That made it hard to convert on offense, and when they did, it was largely picked up by senior libero Marley Knight.

Senior outside hitter Alexa Caronello started the fourth set with an ace, but the Patriots couldn’t hold the lead or fix the defensive errors that plagued them in the third set.

“It’s not what we wanted, but I’m really proud that everyone went out there, and I think everyone can say they gave it their all,” Johnson said. “I think that’s a really good feeling at the end of the day.”

North Hagerstown (23-2) has appeared in the final 12 times, but their previous win was in 2012. Longtime coach Megan Crawford announced she was retiring on a winning note.

This was Northern’s 19th state final and first since 2019, when the Patriots lost in four sets to Magruder. Northern won the championship five years ago, sweeping Westminster.

The Patriots (17-2) had lost only once all season — to Huntingtown in five sets — but they came back to sweep the Hurricanes in the playoffs.

“I’m extremely proud that we made it,” Johnson said. “This has been our goal, and we might not have won it, but we said we were making it to states, and we did.”

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