Dulaney unseats River Hill as Gator Invitational volleyball champion

Until Saturday afternoon, the River Hill volleyball team could claim something that no other team in the state could: having won Reservoir's Gator Invitational.

The Hawks had won the annual tournament — which began in 2010 and invites some of the top teams, both public and private, in Maryland — each of the last two years.

But on Saturday, undefeated Dulaney knocked off River Hill (7-3), 25-13, 25-15, to claim the title.

"It's exciting, I did not know that they were the champs the last two years," said coach Cary Lyons, whose team is 8-0 in the Baltimore County league and 11-0 overall. "I thought we would do pretty good, (because) I think we're good, but you don't know."

River Hill finished 8-0 in pool play, sweeping Arundel, Calvert, Mount de Sales and Reservoir. The host Gators finished 3-5 in pool play, taking sets from Arundel and Mount de Sales, to finish third.

The tournament champion Lions had a pair of players named to the all-tournament team: hitters Darla Svoboda and Jessica Starr. But Lyons said that his middle hitter, Milan Amos, deserved just as much recognition.

In the championship match, Svoboda and Starr had nine kills each, and Amos had four kills, two aces and a point block.

River Hill defeated Severna Park in one semifinal, 25-18, 28-26, while Dulaney — which swept Broadneck, Northern and Severna Park to win its pool — advanced to the championship by defeating Calvert in three sets.

Calvert setter Lauren Carmen was named tournament MVP.

In the first set of the championship, Dulaney went up 8-3 and never let the Hawks get going.

But River Hill went up big in the second set, 7-2, before the Lions went on a 9-1 run to take a commanding lead that it would not relinquish.

Senior Cassidy Davis collected five kills in the championship, and was River Hill's lone representative on the all-tournament team.

"She played steady, she played consistent, she might have tried to push herself a little too hard (at the end) because passing was very poor in the last match," coach Lynn Paynter said.

Junior setter Kalala Pines also had a strong performance, with four kills and two blocks against Dulaney.

"I'm really proud of how Kalala is coming along as a setter, she's starting to think about where players are," Paynter said. "She's starting to have more confidence and dumping the ball.

"We just did not play up to our standard and our abilities, they did a good job of keeping us out of our system."

Many expected Arundel and Centennial, the top-two ranked teams in the Baltimore Sun poll, to make a run at the tournament championship. But Arundel did not make it out of pool play, and 14-time state champion Centennial (9-0) withdrew from the tournament on Friday morning, reportedly due to player health and injury issues.

"It's disappointing. Everyone here was looking forward to having a chance at playing them," said Paynter, whose team lost to Centennial in five sets last week.

All-Tournament Team

Cassidy Davis, River Hill hitter

Hannah Pinion, Reservoir hitter

Jessica Starr, Dulaney hitter

Darla Svoboda, Dulaney hitter

Kim Bell, Severna Park setter

Lauren Carmen, Calvert setter (tournament MVP)

Mimi Graf, Broadneck setter

Brittany Orr, Arundel setter

Jess Ward, Northern setter

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