Wilson’s champion volleyball team pursues its first state crown

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Wilson's volleyball team hopes to turn its regular season success into its first DCSAA championship. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

Wilson’s volleyball team has ruled the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association for nearly two decades, capturing 16 of the league’s championships since 1998.

But that dominance has never paid off with a D.C. State Athletic Association crown — which St. John’s has won every year since the tournament’s inception in 2013.

The Tigers, who have posted a 27-2 record, including an 11-0 mark in league games so far this season, believe that this is their time.

“Our record so far, and just seeing that we have had a really good season this year, pushes us to go as far as we can in states,” said senior hitter Reilly McClure. “There has been an attitude change, and we are really focused. We can do it. We are hoping for the best, and we can really compete with some of the higher-up private schools.”

Wilson has swept School Without Walls — the Tigers’ biggest DCIAA competition — in two separate matches by a combined set score of 4-0.

Wilson has a 27-2 record so far this season. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

“We always get really motivated to play Walls because they’re the only D.C. public school that is any actual competition for us,” said junior setter Jalen Ciagne. “We always get really hyped for that game. We look at them as a higher level of play than the other D.C. public schools.”

So far this season against private schools they could see in the state tournament, the Tigers have a 7-0 record with wins over Sidwell (twice), Washington International (twice), Georgetown Day, Maret and National Cathedral.

“I’m a junior, but our freshman and sophomore year we were pretty strong,” Ciagne said. “But this is the strongest we have been since I’ve been here. It’s pretty exciting. The chemistry of our team is working really well together.”

Of those victories, Wilson’s triumph over Maret was a turning point.

“Our win against Maret was the biggest game we have had all season,” said Ciagne. “We have only won against them twice in the last 18 years. It was a real confidence boost for us. This season we have been more serious than in previous seasons.”

Wilson also had a strong showing in its Tiger Paws Invitational tournament on Oct. 14. While they weren’t able to overcome the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference’s Holy Cross — a team that’s on par with St. John’s — the Tigers were able to take valuable lessons from the game.

“We played the match of our lives against Holy Cross and took a set off them and lost a really close set,” said Wilson coach Perétte Arrington. “We have to finish. It showed us we could compete against those teams and to not be afraid. Our tournament was stacked and let us see stronger competition because that’s who we would see in the finals.”

The Tigers have won the DCIAA volleyball title 16 times since 1998. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

Wilson is led by its trio of captains — Ciagne, McClure and senior outside hitter Lauren White. The team also added a pair of players who have served as a major boost.

Freshman Anna Wehebrink has stepped into multiple roles while the team plugged holes in the injury-riddled lineup.

“We love her,” said White. “She is really good already. We haven’t really had a new player hit and pass that well. She has gotten a lot of experience. She is very adjustable on the floor wherever we need her. The experience she’s getting now will help her develop into a wonderful player.”

But the biggest addition is sophomore hitter Marianna Bertolone, whose family moved to the District from Nevada and who has bolstered the team in every facet.

The sophomore has quickly found a rapport with her setter as well. “She is my go-to when we need a side-out because she can always get a kill,” said Ciagne.

The Tigers will close out the regular season when they travel to play Bell on Thursday. They will open up the playoffs on Halloween at 5:30 p.m. The DCIAA championship game is scheduled for Nov. 6, with the DCSAA tournament slated to start on Nov. 7.