The final play that led to Northwest winning its first City League volleyball title happened in slow motion for senior Nikki Daniels. She watched as setter Taylor Elkinton leaned back to set the ball, realized it was coming her way on the right side, then she thought to herself, "I've got to do this or we're not going to win."
She went through her approach and slammed that ball into the hands of Bishop Carroll senior Sarah Balderas. The ball bounced off Balderas' hands and out of bounds, giving match point to Northwest for a 25-16, 18-25, 27-25 victory.
Northwest finished the City League season 16-0. Northwest also beat Southeast 25-14, 25-13, while Carroll, which finished second in the league at 14-2, beat Southeast 25-12, 25-14.
"We wanted it. We fought for it. We got it," said Daniels, who has committed to Arkansas for swimming.
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Teammate Stephanie Shartzer added, "I knew she was going to put it down. That's Nikki Daniels. When you need her, she'll come through."
Daniels, who has been battling a bad back, had three of her four kills in the final game.
Northwest, which won its final eight league matches last season, was a favorite to win the league title this season because of its nine seniors. But the Grizzlies have been close before, had strong teams before, only to fall short.
Which is why coach Dianne Popp, in her ninth season, battled tears as she recounted what she wanted to tell her husband in a text she sent right after the match.
"I wanted to tell him we won, and that it finally paid off," she said. "It's such an awesome feeling. If we had lost that game, even if we would have shared (the league title with Carroll), it's such a different feeling."
This match had plenty of drama. Carroll played poorly in the first game, struggling with its serve-receive. Carroll turned it around in the second game and took advantage of a sluggish Northwest team.
In the third game, Northwest struggled, falling behind 5-0 and 11-8. Finally both teams played well, through 10 ties, including 22-22. Northwest had a 24-22 lead and lost it, then thought it had lost the entire match when a Daniels hit was called out of bounds.
"We were cheering and everything," said Balderas, who had nine kills. "We saw the ref tell us to go to the end lines (because the match was over), and we're like, 'we won.' "
But the line judge said Carroll had touched the ball on the block, giving Northwest the point.
"For once the line judge was watching, for once it went our way," said Grizzlies senior Alaina Shine, who had a team-high seven kills.
"They were disappointed," Carroll coach Rita Mernagh said of her team. "It was a late call. It was so late. I don't feel like they gave up, though. They wanted it bad. That's what a championship game is about."
Carroll's Chloe Nicholas had a match-high 10 kills. Northwest sophomore Shayla Cotman had three kills and three stuff blocks.
Northwest’s Alaina Shine
Northwest’s Stephanie Shartzer
Northwest wins the City League title
Bishop Carroll volleyball thought it had won the match. Turns out a touch on the block was called, giving the point to Northwest. It was heartbreaking for Carroll, a second chance for Northwest.