When Reservoir volleyball coach John Crinion surveyed this year’s personnel, he had an idea that would take them to the next level, but not without growing pains first. He noticed a certain size and physicality that’s hard to come by at the public school level, so he thought, why not leverage the unique dimension?
Instead of the dink and dunk style in girls’ volleyball, Crinion has decided to ramp it up with a men’s style of pace for the Gators this season. The results over the first month of the season have been fickle, but on Thursday night, after a thrilling five-set win over Mt. Hebron (25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 28-26, 15-8), Crinion believes his group is starting to turn the corner.
Reservoir (1-4 county, 4-4 overall) used their physicality to their advantage on Thursday, and flashed their size in spurts with jarring blocks and emphatic blocks, even though it came with a hiccup or two along the way.
“It was very indicative of the progress we’ve been making as a team. We’re starting to play a drastically different style of volleyball than they’re probably used to,” Crinion said. “We’re aspiring to play a little more of a men’s style of volleyball compared to a women’s style. Little more of big, physical because we have the big, physical tools.
“We’re learning to adjust to that. Trying to get tighter with setting. Even out of system, being able to put the ball up there by the net so our bigs can go up and terminate. The progression across the season, struggled throughout the first half, but I think we’re starting to click a little bit.”
North Carolina State University commit Pam Chukwujekwu led the charge with seven blocks and five kills. Her counterpart, Stony Brook University commit Enitan Omolewa, registered 10 kills, seven digs, four aces, two assists and a block. Tatiana Hamilton dished 14 assists and Sydney Allen had 10 digs.
“You have to be open to new things,” Chukwujekwu said of the physical style of play. “You have to take risks. You have to be able to swing when you think you can’t get it.”
In the first set, Reservoir jumped out to an 8-2 lead, but Mt. Hebron slowly chipped away and eventually drew it to 19-17 with three straight kills. Omolewa helped fuel a 6-0 run to conclude the first set with a well-placed serve that skimmed over the net and an ace that made it 24-16 shortly after.
The second set, however, brought different fortunes. Mt. Hebron took an early 4-0 lead and sat on it the rest of the way, as the Gators coughed up 13 errors and never led in the second frame.
In the third, Reservoir separated itself with a 6-0 swing to make it 17-10, but then squandered the seven-point lead to eventually drop the set, 25-21, as the Vikings went on a momentous 15-4 run to take a 2-1 lead.
Crinion ushered his Gators back to the bench and settled down his riled bunch.
“Big thing I emphasize all the time, I never look at the score. I never look at what’s happening on the sideline. All that matters is the point that you’re in. That’s it,” Crinion said. “If you concentrate on each point that you’re in, the score usually takes care of itself. I think that’s a big learning process for them to wrap around that.
“You get the fans in here, it’s a pretty electric environment going towards the tighter rounds. You could see they’re starting to feel that. I think we were able to calm down going into the fourth and fifth sets, re-hone in and play good volleyball.”
Reservoir opened the fourth set strong, taking a 9-4 lead behind monster kills from Omolewa and Kayla Browne (seven kills, six aces). Mt. Hebron, like it did all game, crawled back into the picture and tied it up at 19-19 with a block by Natalie Hosseini. The two sides traded points, as the fourth went into a stalemate at 26-all before Browne and Omolewa finished the job with sizzling spikes.
In the fifth set, Mt. Hebron offered little resistance as Reservoir put its foot on the gas for the 15-8 win.
“We were able to amp it up on the aggression towards the end of the fifth set,” Crinion said. “That was the deciding factor.”
Mt. Hebron (1-4, 1-7), meanwhile, suffered its seventh straight loss and was without captain Alexa Welch (injury). Coach Anna Romano said her Vikings need to build trust on the court and trust fundamentals rooted from countless hours of practice if they want to right the ship. The Vikings also had Reservoir on the ropes in the fourth set, up 24-22, but they never closed the deal.
“I loved our comeback in the second set. That was fantastic,” Romano said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. My captain and leader of the team was injured for this game. … That’s hard and that’s adversity, but we’ve got to respond. It has to be a next man-up culture, and in some ways, we did that. But we had a hard time finishing at the end. Sometimes, it just comes down to one point.”