The Northeast volleyball program has never been known as a powerhouse, so it wasn’t exactly surprising to head coach Meghan Kulzer that no one, including the Eagles themselves, were sure where to set the expectations coming into this season.
“Once the teams were made, I knew we were going to have a good season,” said Kulzer. “I don’t know that I ever could have guessed that we would have been this good and competitive.”
The Eagles (15-3) weren’t just good and weren’t just competitive; they piled up win after win, went on a playoff run to the 3A East region final and finished the season as the best volleyball team ever assembled at Northeast.
“I am so proud of each and every girl on our team,” Kulzer said. “There were a lot of changes this season, and I think they really rolled with the punches and embraced their role on the team. They worked hard and got better each and every day. I am extremely proud of what they were able to accomplish.”
Even when the Eagles — Mallorie Hetzel, Alia Esposito, Camille Coryatt, Faith Fangman, Tori Smith, Makayla Belanger, Taydam Bolling, Sabrina Sheppard, Lacee Schmidt, Ryleigh Spiegel, Kylie Plumb, Sydney McCrory, Caroline Makarovich and Sam Emrich — kicked off the school year by defeating Chesapeake on September 4, the first day of school, no one outside the Eagle community expected the success that came. The team compiled a 13-2 regular season, improving on the 9-6 mark set in 2011, when the program had its previous best season.
Highlights were many as the team notched victories over Chesapeake (twice), Long Reach, Hammond, Oakland Mills, North County, Glen Burnie (twice), Old Mill, and Southern. Northeast suffered a loss to Meade early in the season but came back to defeat the Mustangs in five sets on the road on October 2.
The football team joined with Northeast students to pack the house for the team’s Dig Pink cancer fundraising match, a 3-0 home win over Glen Burnie on October 11, where they belted out songs and cheers and had a rollicking good time while the Eagles rolled over the Gophers on the court.
“Everybody was so excited to come to the games, so it made us feel proud as a program that people wanted to come support us,” said Sheppard, a junior and one of the team’s leaders.
Come playoff time, the Eagles shined. Northeast did well enough in the regular season to earn a home playoff game, the first home volleyball playoff game in program history, and they welcomed visiting Stephen Decatur with a 3-1 beating and a long bus ride back to Berlin. Sheppard was 19 for 24 serving with nine aces and three kills, while Hetzel was 15 for 19 serving with four aces and five digs. Coryatt had nine kills, Esposito had four blocks and Makarovich recorded three blocks for Northeast.
From there, Northeast went on the road, traveling to Salisbury to knock top-seeded J.M. Bennett out of the tournament in four sets, 25-21, 22-25, 25-14, 25-22, to earn a berth in the 3A East region final.
Fangman, a senior captain, said the excitement of winning two playoff games was unmatched in her experience playing sports at Northeast.
“It was such an amazing feeling. I started crying actually because I was so happy,” said Fangman. “We’ve never won two playoff games in a row since I’ve been here.”
The Eagles had their season ended in the region final by eventual 3A state champion Atholton, but they appreciated taking the county and region by surprise while progressing throughout the year.
“They doubted us, they didn’t think we were going to be this good,” said Fangman. “We got some talent to come in, and it was fun to watch our team and the program itself grow.”
Sheppard said the players shared a common mindset that helped move the program forward.
“It’s out commitment to getting better,” Sheppard said. “We all love each other, so it’s just fun to play and easy to play together. It’s probably my favorite season I’ve had in my three [high school] years. Everyone wanted to get better. It wasn’t about ourselves. It was about doing it for the team, and that’s what made it all worth it.”