It looked like the first time Atholton senior Kelly Simons swung from her middle position that the ball would drop, so even she seemed surprised when the ball came back her way.
But on a night that Simons shined throughout, it was her second swing that gave her the kill and tied the third set at 24 at Glenelg Tuesday night.
“I knew that if I didn’t really get a kill off of that that we would all be down and maybe lose that third set. I did not want that,” she said. “The kill was a bonus, a lot better.”
The Raiders won the next two points, the last on a kill by Lisa Zoch (10 kills), and finished on a 6-1 run to win the set, 26-24. They carried the momentum into the fourth and won, 19-25, 25-18, 26-24, 25-19, to hand the Gladiators (5-1 Howard County, 8-1) their first loss of the year.
Atholton improves to 6-0 in county and 8-1 overall to remain tied with Centennial for the league lead.
Simons started the match and ended the match with a kill to finish with 11 to go with an ace and a block in what coach Rob Moy said was one of her best games of the year, if not the best.
“This one she played smart, really smart,” he said. “She owned the net and that was important.”
With neither team playing at their best in the first two stanzas, the third set was crucial. It featured a number of long rallies and neither team led by more than three down the stretch, but it was Atholton and its best players that stepped up in the key moments. Simons led the way with three kills and an ace in the final 11 Raiders points.
“The third set gave either team that won a lot of momentum because the first two sets, we were both not playing as well,” she said. “The third set you could tell both teams really wanted it and were fighting for it and that definitely gave us the momentum.”
The Gladiators led most of the early stages of the fourth set until Atholton tied the match at 10 Simons’ kill. It took its first lead at 15-14 during a 9-1 run and never looked back.
Glenelg, which had a pair of kills from Darcy Bishop (15 kills) and Colleen McAuley (7 kills) in an eight-point run early in the first set to pull away, entered the match against the defending 3A state champions having won 23 straight sets dating back to its first match of the season.
“I think we got maybe a little bit too comfortable and then I think their go-to players came through when they needed to,” said Gladiators coach Jason Monjes. “Whether it was from the middle or the outside, they just started making more plays at certain times and I think that kind of got them going. ... Hindsight 20-20, I think maybe they weren’t sure how good we are as a team because we’ve been under the radar.”
Atholton matched the Gladiators’ quick start in the first set by winning 11 of the first 15 points in the second. Though the deficit was cut to 14-12, the Raiders pulled away by going on a 9-3 run.