The Centennial volleyball team has never gotten used to losing.
With 14 state championship banners on the wall of the gymnasium, the rare setback tends to stand out.
So when the Eagles visited River Hill (5-3) on Oct. 9 with a chance to avenge two losses from 2011, you can bet they were ready. But so were the Hawks.
In the end, Centennial prevailed in five sets — 20-25, 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 15-13 — to improve to 8-0.
“There was a little bit of revenge. We lost to them in regular season and we lost to them in the playoffs, and that ended our season, so I'm glad that we could go out there and show that Centennial is back and better than ever,” said Centennial senior hitter Trisha Mockapetris, who finished with a match-high 23 kills, including the match winner and seven in the fifth set. “We have a big, big rivalry between River Hill and Centennial … mostly for volleyball, and we kicked it into full gear tonight, everyone did.”
The Eagles uncharacteristically made six errors in the first set and allowed five aces.
“In the first game we slacked off, we got in a hole ... we weren't really focused,” said Mockapetris, who also finished with 24 digs. “You have to know what you want and you have to push for it ... we wanted it so badly and we pushed until the end.”
Coming into the match, the Eagles had won 21 consecutive sets without a loss this season. River Hill, on the other hand, was coming off of a surprising 3-1 loss at Marriotts Ridge last Thursday. It was the first time Marriotts Ridge — which opened in 2005 — had ever defeated River Hill in volleyball.
The Hawks have dealt with injuries to several front-line starters this season, but are finally back to full strength now that six-foot juniors Keana Richards (9 kills) and Sierra Baker (7 kills, 3 aces) are on the court at the same time.
“This is our first time we've had all of our people here this whole season,” said senior Cassidy Davis, who finished with a team-high 19 kills. “It's nice to have two nice big blocks, that helps a lot on defense.”
Another six-foot middle hitter for River Hill, senior Taylor Thomas, had 13 kills without an error and five point blocks against Centennial.
Eagles sophomore Meghan Kelley finished the match with 14 kills and four aces. Junior Kristen Ritchie was next, with eight kills, but her main contribution was on defense as she recorded 32 digs and executed 19 perfect passes.
“We knew this was going to be hard and I'm just glad we played this well against them, we fought for every point,” said Davis, whose older sisters — Caitlin and Kelly — were two of five starters that graduated from last year’s state finalist team. “I always look forward to Centennial games because they're the most fun to play.”
Each team’s setter — Lexi White-Torruellas for Centennial, and Kalala Pines for River Hill — found a groove late in the match, allowing each team’s star hitter to shine down the stretch. Mockapetris had 15 of her kills in the final two sets, while Davis came through with ten during the same span.
“Cassidy is a good hitter and it came down to outside versus outside, libero versus libero and setter versus setter,” Mockapetris said. “You know you have to go full force the whole time, you know you can’t slack off ... we had to push ourselves to our absolute maximum and this the kind of volleyball we want to play at all times.”
Centennial libero Cara Walsh (43 digs) and her River Hill counterpart, Sydni Horner (28), were also at the top of their game.
“This match will help us a lot, and we can see now that we are a good team,” River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said. “They exceeded my expectations tonight.”
In 2010, Centennial defeated River Hill twice, including an epic five-setter in the regional championship match.
The two teams could meet again at this Saturday's Gator Invitational tournament at Reservoir. River Hill has won that tournament each of the last two years.
Around the league
Atholton defeated Long Reach, 3-1.
Howard defeated Hammond, 25-21, 25-7, 25-12.
Mt. Hebron defeated Glenelg in five sets.
Reservoir defeated Marriotts Ridge in straight sets.
Wilde Lake defeated Oakland Mills in five sets, 25-19, 15-25, 20-25, 25-21, 15-6.