The Reservoir volleyball team entered the final stretch of its season riding the highest of highs.
It was 6-0 in county and 9-0 overall – the last undefeated team in the league – and it seemed like the squad was clicking on all cylinders.
But as the wins mounted, so did the pressure of keeping it going – at least for Gators coach Jamie Bullock.
“I probably felt more pressure than they did. I’m like, oh my god, I’m so nervous,” she said. “But I don’t think they felt like as much as I did. For me, the announcements and people saying great job, keep it up – it’s like, OK, but I just want to play. I want them to play and to relax.”
Reservoir started a new winning streak on Tuesday night and threw a wrench in the county championship race in the process, as it handed visiting Howard its first county loss, 25-23, 25-23, 18-25, 25-23.
The win pulls the Gators (7-1 county, 10-1 overall) into a four-way tie for first place in the county with the Lions (7-1, 9-2), Mt. Hebron (7-1, 10-1) and Atholton (7-1, 8-3) with just three regular season matches remaining.
“I think they are starting to believe we can do this. We can win, we can be at the top of this conference,” said Bullock, who added this was overall the best match her team has played all year. “What I got to see tonight was they were talking a whole lot more and going after balls, and that’s something I haven’t seen all season and have been asking for, and tonight they brought it.”
Howard coach Grant Scott agreed with that assessment – the Gators simply outplayed the Lions most of the way, and their hustle proved to be the difference in a match that had three sets decided by two points.
“I think Reservoir played fantastic. I give them all the credit in the world,” he said. “We gave up a lot of aces and had a lot of service errors. We gave them a lot of opportunities, but the difference was they took advantage of the opportunities. I think that was one of our weaker games, but I think that was because Reservoir pushed us.”
It was evident from the start that Reservoir – donning its pink jerseys for Breast Cancer Awareness Month – came to play. At 3-all, the Gators scored four straight points, which was the start of a 12-3 run that gave them a 15-6 lead. Amaka Chukwujekwu (13 kills, 3 aces, 1 block) played a big role in the rally with three kills and a block, but Howard wasn’t done just yet.
Trailing 18-9, the Lions put together an 8-1 run, and eventually tied the set at 21 and again at 23, but Pam Chukwujekwu (4 blocks) got blocks on the final two points to give Reservoir a 1-0 set lead.
“They just kept the ball going,” Scott said. “A lot of the swings we had would’ve been kills most of the season, so when they start keeping the ball alive and aggressively putting it back on us, we got hesitant and we played tentative. They took advantage of that.”
The Lions came back strong early in the second, taking a 4-2 advantage, but the Gators responded by taking four of the next six points to tie things at 6. An Amaka Chukwujekwu kill followed, and Reservoir never relinquished the lead after that.
Amaka Chukwujekwu pounded her 11th kill on the Gators’ fourth set-point attempt to close out the set.
“I just kind of feel like we just kind of played our game,” Bullock said. “We started to hustle and talk and just do things that we hadn’t been doing that we knew would make a complete game. We finally just did it.”
Howard got back to its game in the third set, finishing off 11 kills in the stanza to go with three aces and a block. Up 20-18, Sara Binkley got a block and Sarah Sweet (13 kills) hit two kills to help the Lions win the final five points and cut the deficit to 2-1.
In the third set, it was Reservoir that had to battle back and it did so with confidence. Down 22-19, the Gators won four straight on a service error, hitting error and kills from Saunderson and Amaka Chukwujekwu, who then set up match point with her first block of the night. They won the match on a ball that Howard sent long.
Amaka Chukwujekwu said it was crucial for her team to stay consistent and finish every set strong, especially against the Lions and their winning pedigree.
“Against Atholton we started off strong but had a hard time finishing off, so for this one we really wanted to stay strong throughout,” she said. “We knew we weren’t’ playing up to our full potential that game. We really wanted to show everyone that we can do this.”
Brooke Saunderson (30 assists) had a big day behind the service line for the Gators with six aces, while Enitan Omolewa (10 kills, 2 blocks, 1 ace) and Sydney Allen (9 kills) were consistent threats and kept the Howard blocks from keying on Amaka Chukwujekwu.
“I know it’s important that we have to keep the other side guessing. ... It’s about getting everyone involved and they did that very well tonight,” said Bullock.
Though there is now a four-way tie for first place in the county, it’s far from decided. Reservoir finishes the regular season against Centennial, Mt. Hebron (on Oct. 25) and Wilde Lake, while Howard has Marriotts Ridge, Atholton (on Oct. 25) and Centennial remaining.
“I want them to just go out there and play hard and the wins will come,” Bullock said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Reservoir (7-1 county, 10-1 overall) def. Howard (7-1, 9-2) – 3-1 [25-23, 25-23, 18-25, 25-23]
Centennial (6-2, 8-3) def. Glenelg (2-6, 5-6) – 3-0 [25-18, 25-14, 25-23]
Centennial stats: Rachel Mathew (16 kills, 2 aces, 12 digs), Emily Przybyla (3 kills, 29 assists, 10 digs, 2 aces), Jackie Sterenberg (11 kills, 1 ace, 6 digs), Emily Dewhurst (3 kills, 1 dig), Gabby Fairley (2 kills), Camryn Allen (11 digs)
Glenelg stats: Kara Crawford (14 kills), Maddie Southern (21 assists, 4 aces), Alex Wood (12 digs)
Oakland Mills (2-6, 5-6) def. Hammond (0-8, 3-8) – 3-0 [25-18, 25-19, 25-17]
Oakland Mills stats: Merina Seldon (2 kills, 13 digs, 2 ace), Naimah Jangha (21 assists, 3 aces, 7 digs, 1 block), Rachel Snead (3 aces, 6 kills, 2 digs), Alana Joseph (4 aces, 10 kills, 4 digs), Jordyn Reese (5 aces), Nya Lightfoot (2 kills, 3 digs)
Hammond stats: Imani Reid (3 kills, 2 blocks), Grace Cheney (3 kills, 1 ace, 7 blocks, 2 digs), Nailah Melvin (1 kill, 1 ace), Hannah Gorel (2 aces, 2 digs, 4 assists)
Atholton (7-1, 8-3) def. Long Reach (1-7, 4-8) – 3-0 [25-20, 25-16, 25-20]
Atholton stats: Sam Miller (16 kills, 2 digs, 2 aces), Kelly Simons (9 kills 1 assist, 10 digs, 1 block), Hope Kelly (27 assists, 2 digs, 2 aces), Kira Thompson (6 kills, 2 digs, 4 aces), Elise Park (2 kills, 2 assists, 3 digs, 1 ace), Anielks Skibniewska (2 kills, 1 assist, 2 digs, 1 ace)
Mt. Hebron (7-1, 10-1) def. Wilde Lake (5-3, 8-3) – 3-1 [11-25, 25-17, 25-16, 25-23]
Marriotts Ridge (2-6, 5-6) def. River Hill (2-6, 2-9) – 3-0