Arundel junior Mackenzie Meehan looked to be having the time of her life Monday night against defending 3A state champions Atholton. She laughed and smiled, high-fived teammates after every point and seemingly enjoyed every second of the atmosphere that came with The Baltimore Sun’s No. 1 ranked team hosting No. 2.
Glimpses of her enjoyment were still evident early on with the visiting Raiders up 12-3 in the first set. Once the Wildcats hit their stride, she thought, they couldn’t be stopped.
“We just had to transfer our mental things that we keep working on, just stay strong and we know what we’re doing,” said Meehan, who committed to play at Division-I Radford in July. “We just had to calm our nerves. We were really angst up for this game because they are a really good team.”
The momentum of Atholton’s nine-point rally quickly faded with the Wildcats’ own 5-0 run, and they slowly chipped the deficit away from there. Arundel eventually tied the score at 21, battled through a set point and won the set before rolling through the defending champions in the next two stanzas to win in convincing fashion, 29-27, 25-12, 25-20.
The victory keeps Arundel’s undefeated record intact at 6-0 while Atholton falls to 4-1.
“We always have team talks after and before practice. We really work on our team chemistry which is a really big thing,” Meehan said of bouncing back to win the opening set. “We always talk about energy because energy is a big concept of this game. We think that transferring our energy to the court will really help and help dominate teams.”
The Wildcats are fresh off winning their own tournament Sept. 23 but also less than a week removed from a near defeat to a Mt. Hebron team that has lost three of its first four matches. For as talented a team Arundel is, coach Ashley Yuscavage knows one mental lapse could prove costly and she was proud that her team didn’t let up early on against the Raiders.
“We played Mt. Hebron and went to five [sets], and we were disappointed with some of the things that we did and we really focused on them and talked about them,” she said. “We talked about the mental things and what they had to do to change. We saw some of those things at our tournament fall in place and again today. We’re doing the things we need to do at this point in the season.”
Atholton jumped out to its big early lead thanks in part to a pair of kills from Chanelle Smith but also because of Arundel’s sloppy play. The Wildcats had just one kill until a kill and an ace from senior Chyna Gubbings (12 kills, three aces) and a kill and two blocks from freshman Brooke Watts (eight kills, one block) cut Atholton’s 12-3 lead to 12-8.
The Raiders bounced back and held leads of 17-11 and 20-16 before four kills from Watts in an eight-point span tied the set at 22. Although Atholton held off three set points with two kills from Lisa Zoch (11 kills) and one from Kelly Simons, Arundel won the set and carried the momentum into the second.
“The difference was defense. More than anything the defense kind of fell apart,” Raiders coach Rob Moy said. “We got too comfortable after the first game, and the problem was that we needed to understand they were not playing well in the first half of the first set. We took advantage of it and then we let off the gas pedal. We can’t do that against a team like that, they’re too strong.”
An early block and kill from Meehan sparked the Wildcats, who took a 4-1 lead in the second set and never looked back. Atholton didn’t win consecutive points until it cut the deficit to 14-7 and had just five kills and a block in the set.
Both teams came out firing in the third and the Raiders took the first solid lead at 11-8, though Arundel always seemed to find an answer. The Wildecats never trailed by more than three, took the lead at 19-18 and closed the set and match on an 8-2 run.
In the first month of the season, Arundel has defeated last year’s co-Howard County champion Howard, 3A state champion Atholton, 3A North region champion Towson and Anne Arundel County rival Severna Park without dropping a set. Meehan said she and her teammates aren’t shying away from it; they want to raise banners in November.
“I think the potential of this team is incredible,” she said. “Obviously the ultimately goal to is get a banner, but we just need to work point by point, set by set, game by game. Take it one step at a time and hopefully we get there.”
Arundel def. Atholton (2-0, 4-1) — 3-0 [29-27, 25-12, 25-20]