There is no such thing as an easy out in Howard County volleyball anymore. Oakland Mills, which won only four league matches in the previous seven seasons, pushed Reservoir, which won 70 matches in the same stretch, to the limit Tuesday night, ultimately falling in five sets.
"I guess we underestimated them and then coming out we realized this year that a lot of teams are different, not just Oakland Mills but a lot of them, so you learn to adjust," said Reservoir senior hitter Hannah Pinion, who led the Gators with 14 kills and 16 digs, including three kills in the final set.
Oakland Mills jumped to an early two-set lead — 25-21, 25-23 — as the Gators struggled at the service line.
"We weren't worried, it just made us acknowledge what was going on and start to pick up our game instead of playing how we were," Pinion said.
The third and fourth sets were a complete turnaround, as Reservoir coasted — 25-9, 25-13 — to even things up.
"We got a lot of confidence from things that our coach (Jamie Bullock) said to us," Pinion said. "Mainly serving ... she kept telling us to really push through."
Reservoir's Caroline Winand collected seven kills and two aces across the final three sets, and Bolu Adebekun added five kills and two blocks in the third and fourth sets
Oakland Mills fought back hard in the fifth set, taking a 2-0 lead on back-to-back kills by Marilyn Steyert, and tying it at 4-4 and 6-6, but ultimately succumbed to seven unforced errors, falling 15-9.
"It's always nice to have a nice fight. I'm glad they came back and fought and I'm glad we were able to respond," Bullock said.
The Gators were led by Imani Clayton (8 kills), Paige Foley with six aces and 25 assists, and Barbara Kelley with 20 digs.
Reservoir has been playing without star hitter Maddy Belt, a second-team all-county selection last year as a sophomore, who has been sidelined with a back injury.
"We're still trying to figure things out with doctors and hopefully she'll be back soon," Bullock said. "They've done a great job, it was finally starting to come together toward the middle of the season but then I've had some injuries and illnesses but we're going to pull it together."
At 2-6, Oakland Mills has already matched its league win total from the last two seasons combined.
"We started getting sloppy and lost confidence," coach Shelby Rhodes said. "But they all played well."
The Scorpions were led by Sam Slebodnik, who was 13-for-16 from the service line with five aces; Paulina Taniewski, with five kills; and Raven Blount, who was 29-for-31 on serve receive.
Reservoir (3-5) ended a three-match skid with the win.
"We started off slow but we're getting a lot better through the season, and it's not how you start but how you finish, so hopefully we'll show that," Pinion said.
Around the league
Glenelg 3, Centennial 1
Glenelg kept its grip on a share of first place in Howard County with a 3-1 win over defending county champion Centennial (4-4) Tuesday night, 25-15, 25-15, 23-25, 25-16.
The Gladiators were led by Sarah Girard (16 kills, 14 digs), Morgan Perry (18 kills, 13 digs) and Rachael Girard (44 assists).
Glenelg (7-1) is one of three Howard County teams with only one loss, along with Howard, Mt. Hebron and River Hill.
Howard 3, Long Reach 0
Marriotts Ridge 3, Atholton 2
The Mustangs won a difficult five-set battle, 25-15, 25-12, 25-27, 22-25, 15-10.
Mt. Hebron 3, Wilde Lake 0
River Hill 3, Hammond 0
The Hawks swept the Golden Bears, 25-15, 25-16, 25-17.
Hammond sophomore middle Lauryn Terry had five solo blocks, and senior captain Nellie Balkarova had eight digs in the loss, and senior Holly Thomas had four aces.
Oldfields 3, Glenelg Country 1
The Dragons dropped to 2-4 with a loss to Oldfields, 24-26, 25-15, 25-19, 25-13.
Glenelg Country School was led in kills by junior Merary Perez and sophomore Ka'Mari Robinson with four each. Michelle Orr was 5-for-5 from the service line with an ace, while sophomore Sarah Gibney served six aces. Sarah Gibney had 10 assists.