Three Howard County volleyball teams entered Monday with perfect county records, but only one remains after host Marriotts Ridge took down Howard in four sets — 24-26, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22.
The Mustangs are not only the last team without a league loss at 5-0, they also are undefeated at 8-0 overall. Coach Jamie Bullock answered honestly when asked if she expected eight wins in eight matches to sit alone atop one of the best counties in the state.
“No,” she said. “I knew the beginning should be OK and I have told them the whole time we need to work in October. It’s October that’s really going to count, then obviously through November. I was not necessarily expecting this but I think I knew they could.”
Marriotts Ridge senior Rheign Davis, who led the team with 13 kills and six blocks to go with an ace and two digs, admitted she didn’t expect this kind of start either. The Mustangs have been mediocre the last two years, going 8-7 last year and 8-8 in 2017, but have found different ways and relied on different players to win throughout this season.
On Monday, it was Davis’ turn.
“We are having so much fun. I love winning; it’s my favorite thing,” she said. “I love how we always have energy and we never give up on ourselves even if they might get a run on us, we push back always and we never give up and I really like that about this team.”
The Mustangs didn’t trail in the first set until Howard (4-1, 6-2) went on a 5-0 run to take a 21-19 advantage. Although they battled back to tie the score at 23 and 24, they couldn’t reclaim the lead and the Lions closed out the set on a kill by freshman Corinne Chau (10 kills).
Marriotts Ridge never wavered, however, and overcame a slower start in the second set to build a comfortable lead. A 3-0 run that included a block by Rachel George, a kill by freshman Rhisen Davis and an ace by Julia Mamo made it 17-12.
Although the Lions would cut the deficit to 23-20, the Mustangs stood tall and won the stanza on a kill by Mamo, who closed out each of their set wins with strong right-handed swings.
It was the first and second hits of Marriotts Ridge that really impressed Howard first-year coach Allison Ose.
“I think Marriotts Ridge did a really good job at playing defense. They got everything up,” she said. “Then we just made a few errors and couldn’t get the momentum.”
Howard’s only lead in the third set came at 1-0. It was all Marriotts Ridge, which built a 13-5 lead after a Gabby Tseytlin ace and cruised to a 2-1 set advantage.
Rheign Davis took over early in the fourth set when her team needed it most. She had three blocks and three kills in their first 11 points, and a Mamo kill pushed the lead to 14-9, but the Lions wouldn’t go down without a fight. They had seven kills from five different players during 7-1 run to cut the deficit to 20-19 but couldn’t sustain it, as Marriotts Ridge answered by winning four of the next five points to set up match point that Mamo eventually put away.
“They did the best job tonight listening to what I was asking them to do,” Bullock said. “We are totally buying into everything, and, you know, it takes time. It’s just trusting each other.”
Howard senior Marisa Moore had 12 kills and an ace, senior Emma Marthins had seven kills and four blocks and Darien Garner added six kills. Mamo had 12 kills and 12 digs to go with an ace and Brenna O’Reilly had 37 assists 15 digs, three kills and a pair of aces for Marriotts Ridge.
Though the Mustangs currently hold the top spot in the county, Glenelg, Howard and Mt. Hebron sit just one game back with one loss each. Ose said it was disappointing lose but she remains confident her team will come back hungry as the toughest part of their schedule lies ahead.
Bullock isn’t completely satisfied with what she’s seen either, despite the perfect record that might say otherwise. She’s “not fully happy” with the defense and said “we’ve got to pass a little bit better,” but after seeing her team win six of seven sets against Glenelg and the Lions the last two matches, she expects her team to continue to grow.
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“We’ll get there and I know they will,” Bullock said. “They don’t have a choice. They’ve got to.”