The expectations for a team following a season in which it won a state championship can be immense. The target on their back looms large, and for the Atholton volleyball team, starting its title defense on the road in a hostile environment at Reservoir was less than ideal.
Not for this Raiders squad, however. They looked the part of last year’s 3A state champions and rolled past a young and talented Gators team, 25-13, 25-15, 25-19, to kickoff their season with a victory.
“Everybody stepped up, everybody knew their role,” said Atholton coach Rob Moy. “The first two games there was no confusion. ... It was good. Overall, great.”
The Raiders main question mark headed into the season — for the second straight year — was who would step up and play setter. It didn’t take long for the combination of libero Elise Park and outside hitter Lisa Zoch to set the tone and make their new setters, Hannah Duncan and Sabrina Lagomarsino, comfortable.
Five different players registered a kill in the opening set with freshman Ryan Rorls leading the way with three, and Atholton, which never trailed by more than one at any point, jumped out to a 9-2 lead and rolled from there.
“Elise and Lisa pushed everybody aside and they took a two-man receive because they knew that they could do it and they wanted everybody else out of the way, “ Moy said. “... Hannah was going a really good job setting, and Sabrina, too. Both were doing a really good job. I can’t complain.”
Park took control of the second behind the service line. She stepped in with her team up 9-6 and left it only after scoring 11 straight points, including five aces. Reservoir did well to cut the deficit with a 6-0 run but it was too much to overcome.
Gators coach John Crinion said their serve receive and being too hyped up were their team’s biggest issues.
“Their libero served pretty well and [Rorls] had some nice float serves as well. I think if we [improve] that up a little bit over the next few weeks and get back in the gym and grind it out and get after it again,” he said. “I think they saw a couple weaknesses in our defense ... and we were a little bit anxious, big game environment. They took advantage of that.”
Reservoir got off to a better start in the third set and took a 2-1 lead behind back-to-back blocks from Pam Chukwujekwu, but Atholton never let the Gators take control. And at 4-3, the Raiders went on a 6-0 run to grab a five-point lead.
Zoch (seven kills, three aces), a first-team all-county outside hitter a year ago, stepped up and put down four of her seven kills and had two aces in the final 15 Atholton points.
While Moy was impressed with what he saw from his girls against an “underrated” Reservoir team, there was still room for improvement. He would have liked to see more passes to his middle hitters, Kelly Simons and transfer Chanelle Smith.
“We didn’t get a chance to establish them, which is too bad because our middles are dynamite,” he said. “We set a lot to the outside. We weren’t getting the passes that our setters were confortable with in the middle, but the few we had, we did well. It wasn’t as much as I’d like but we’re getting there.”
Crinion said he liked what he saw from Enitan Omolewa, who changed positions from middle to outside hitter. She finished with nine kills.
“She’s a kid that’s pretty special, just a real athlete,” he said. “We’re asking a lot of her and putting her outside her comfort zone and she’s really stepping up in a big way.”
Atholton will host Severna Park on Sept. 12 while Reservoir hosts North County.
Atholton (1-0 county, 1-0 overall) def. Reservoir (0-1, 0-1) — 3-0 [25-13, 25-15, 25-19]
Click HERE to see other volleyball scores from around the league on Thursday, Sept. 7.