Howard County Times

River Hill volleyball defeats No. 2 Howard, 3-0, displaying its improved communication

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In seasons past, River Hill volleyball had a tendency to be quieter on the court. One match in, this year’s group has made its collective voice heard.

The Hawks made a concerted effort this season to improve their energy and communication both on and off the court. Those aspects were in abundance in their season-opening 3-0 win (25-14, 25-23, 25-18) over No. 2 Howard.


“It’s absolutely terrific to see what I saw, the movement and communication with each other,” River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said. “I saw them saying, ‘That was my ball, don’t you worry about it.’ Then they took the next ball. We didn’t get caught that often where we weren’t in the right spot or hadn’t moved to the right spot because they were constantly communicating with each other the entire night. That presence was also in the huddle and I thought that shows the growth of the team and the development, especially since we have so many young kids on the team.”

Leading by a set, Paynter called timeout with her Hawks (1-0) trailing 23-22 in the second. Constantly communicating, Abby McMahon and Kristin Amadiegwu delivered back-to-back kills to put the Hawks back on top. After a long rally and with Mackenzie Calhoun on serve, River Hill closed out the second set to grab firm control of the match.


Calhoun, a senior setter and Lafayette College commit, contributed in a variety of areas and served as a calming presence for the Hawks throughout the night.

“I feel like when we came into the huddle the big thing was that we need to keep it simple and play our game,” Calhoun said. “When I’m going back to serve, I’m blocking out the fact that it’s game point and you’ve just got to treat it like any other point. I think that’s something we kept talking about throughout the huddle, that we need to play every point with the same intensity and we can’t let up. I think we did a good job of keeping it simple and playing our game in those situations.”

The match started out neck-and-neck with neither team building a lead larger than two in the opening 18 points. However, River Hill quickly built separation with its success at the service line. The Hawks scored seven straight points, including a pair of aces from Calhoun. In the ladder stages of the set, Mackenzie’s younger sister, Josie, shined at the service line with four straight aces, as River Hill closed out the first set.

Howard (0-1) improved its serve-receive in the second set, which kept the score tight. Morgan Harris anchored the Lions defense, while Kaleigh Williams spearheaded the offense. But in the late stages, River Hill leaned on its communication and veteran leadership from Mackenzie Calhoun to finish out the set.

“I think we’ll be a different team as we go through the season,” Howard coach Grant Scott said. “Being the first game and having a lot of younger players, I know River Hill has a lot of younger players too, but having that senior setter [Mackenzie Calhoun] rotating back to be the next server, that level of confidence is going to help. We’re not there yet. We’ll come back stronger as the season progresses, our growth curve is exponential right now.”

Feeding on their momentum from the second set, River Hill built a 10-6 lead in the third. Grace Leska, Mia Parks and Sofija Simendic sparked the Hawks with kills. River Hill executed its final big run, pushing an 18-14 advantage to 23-14, keyed by multiple kills from Simendic as the Hawks bench roared louder with each point.

“The biggest thing for me is the connection we have on our team,” Simendic said. “We’ve had so much time to get to know each other and having that relationship both on and off the court. It feels so good to play with the people that you love.”

River Hill's Mackenzie Calhoun serves the ball against Howard in the third set of Tuesday's match against Howard.