Marriotts Ridge coach Jamie Bullock pulled aside libero Meghan Kwon and outside hitter Julia Mamo challenged them.
The Mustangs’ strength became a weakness in its lone loss of the year to Mt. Hebron on Oct. 14, and facing a young but talented team in Reservoir Tuesday night on its senior night in Fulton, a similar defensive effort wouldn’t be good enough to win.
“I told them, ‘guys, we’ve got to play better defense. I need the two of you to play better defense,’ and just told them they’ve got to talk to each other,” Bullock said. “And the two of them had an excellent night. It was the defense that kept us in it.”
Marriotts Ridge kept the Gators’ power at bay and swept them in three sets — 25-9, 25-21, 25-14 — to improve to 9-1 in county play and 12-1 overall with just one match left in the regular season. The Mustangs still have a shot at sharing the county championship with Mt. Hebron if they beat Centennial the Vikings fall to Glenelg.
“I’m very pleased with them tonight,” Bullock said. “... We have been practicing, practicing, practicing our defense ever since that Mt. Hebron game. We’ve been really working on it. I knew from that Mt. Hebron match that was a weakness that night, and if we didn’t pick that up I didn’t know what was going to happen the rest of the season.”
Marriotts Ridge (9-1 county, 12-1 overall) played a nearly flawless first set. Bullock called it “shocking, because I know how good Reservoir is.” The Mustangs won the first seven points, and though the Gators answered with a 4-0 run, the visiting team punched right back and won the next eight to take a 15-4 lead. They closed the stanza on an 8-2 run to run away with it.
Reservoir (6-4, 9-4), however, didn’t lie down. It took a 9-5 advantage in the second set, but once Marriotts Ridge closed the gap the two teams battled back and forth until the final point. An ace by freshman Mayah Tucker got the Gators within a point at 22-21, but the Mustangs again stepped up defensively to win the last three points, the last two coming on a Rachel George block and a Rheign Davis ace.
Reservoir coach Carole Ferrante echoed a similar sentiment to the one she had after her team was swept by Glenelg on Oct. 15. Junior middle blocker Kayla Browne and Tucker found their rhythm, and once it got back in its regular rotation, she felt good about the matchup. However, going for the “really big play” cost them several winnable points and was the difference in the second set.
“We also have to learn when to hone it in and just make the smart play,” she said. “That’s just part of growing and learning as a team. … I think the excitement of wanted to get that big power kill, sometimes you take it a little bit too far and you make those small mistakes.”
The third set mirrored the first. Marriotts Ridge jumped out to a 7-1 lead and Reservoir climbed back in with a 6-0 run, but the Mustangs well-rounded offense was too much to slow down. Runs of 4-0 and 5-0 put them up 18-10, and they closed it out with another 4-0 run that included one of five aces by Mamo, who also finished with seven kills and 10 digs.
Freshman Rhisen Davis had multiple kills in each set and tied Mamo with seven, while Rheign Davis and Katie Trenchard each had five. Junior setter Brenna O’Reilly doled out 20 assists to go with her 13 digs. Kwon answered her coach’s challenge and led the team with 18 digs and added four assists.
For the Gators, Tucker had seven kills, Browne had five and Jazmyn Cooper had four.
“I am so impressed with them right now,” Bullock said. “I told them, this is a team that I’m so proud to coach and, you know, we’ve had ups and downs and most people don’t always see those but we’ve really come together and the girls have done everything I’ve asked them to do. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Gators, meanwhile, have had a rollercoaster season yet are a win away from matching their 7-4 county record from 2016 with three freshman starters and one senior. Ferrante said she hopes her team understands that despite some adversity, “we are still that strong, solid team.”