Reservoir has had one goal since the first day of tryouts this fall: to bring the Gators back to glory.
Carole Ferrante, who led Reservoir to its only state championship in 2007 and is back as varsity coach after a six-year hiatus, sees the passion of her young but superbly talented team every day. She believes with growth and dedication that it can be done.
“They literally go in that gym all the time and look at those banners and say, ‘We want to have that again.’ So that piece of the puzzle is really just pushing them,” Ferrante said. “For them, they keep saying it’s been too long, and we want to be part of that change.”
The Gators’ earned a No. 2 ranking by The Baltimore Sun based simply on talent, potential and coaching pedigree, not because of their 9-7 record a year ago. But faced with its toughest challenge yet at defending 3A state champions Atholton on Thursday, Reservoir answered the bell and every challenge thrown its way and swept the Raiders in straight sets, 28-26, 25-23, 25-23.
“It’s really big because I took a long time off, and to come back and be able to work with such an amazing group of girls,” Ferrante said while fighting back tears. “I appreciate the respect that our team has been given. It’s even better when you see it in action.”
The Gators (2-0 Howard County, 3-0 overall) were dealt a significant blow early in the match when Shelby Reed went down with an ankle injury that she did not return from, but they simply battled through the adversity. It would be a theme in a match that featured a 23-all tie in all three sets.
The first set needed extra time. A kill by Kayla Browne tied the score at 25 and a few points later she closed the set with an ace.
The Gators held a slim advantage throughout the second set but Atholton fans and player erupted when Raiders middle blocker Chanelle Smith stonewalled Browne with a block to cut the deficit to 21-18.
Reservoir never flinched. The next point, Tatiana Hamilton set Browne again, and this time the junior fluttered a changeup across the net for a kill. Atholton climbed back to tie the score at 22 and 23 on a Ryan Rorls kill, but the Gators once again won the final two points of the stanza and took a two-set lead after an ace from Jessica Rothermel.
“I was like, OK, that was a good block, but I’m just going to hit it away from you,” Browne said of Smith’s play.
“Our biggest focus as a team is like staying mindful and staying as a team,” said Hamilton, who had 28 assists and six digs. “We pick each other up when we’re down and we really don’t even get down. Like, we lose a point and we get right back up after that.”
The Raiders (0-2, 2-2) dug themselves a 2-0 hole against Broadneck on Tuesday and won the final three sets to complete an epic comeback. Ferrante and the Gators, whose match against Chesapeake was postponed that night, watched it happen. There was a simple message to her team: “We are not Broadneck.”
“We are Reservoir volleyball and we are going to play our best volleyball that can right now to make sure we can that when we get into a situation, get a lead, that we can feel confident to know that we can maintain what we just did,” she said.
Both teams found their groove offensively early in the third set. They split the first 12 points that were all won via kill or ace, and the score reflected a set that swung in favor of both teams at one point.
A Raiders’ 22-18 lead was wiped away by two kills by Maddie Barrett and two aces by freshman libero Gabby Allen, and with the score tied at 23, Barrett came through with her sixth and seventh kills of the set on back-to-back points to complete the sweep.
“They weren’t letting the moment get too big,” Ferrante said. “They were staying focused on just good clean volleyball. The discussions were just clean, crisp, smart plays. It wasn’t a matter of looking down the road of what’s going to be.”
Rorls led the Raiders with nine kills, Smith added five kills and two blocks and Jessica Humphries had six kills and two aces. Freshman Mayah Tucker led the Gators with 12 kills while Barrett and Browne each had 10.
Atholton coach Larry Schofield said he expected senior to create problems but said Tucker “took us down.”
“We ran into a better team. A better team that wanted it,” he said. “... We got to find a way to play defense. It’s fixable but it’s got to start happening. But it’s got to be right here in the head.”
While it aced its first test of the season, Reservoir understands the season is still young. But combining the circumstances of the performance, Hamilton said they learned a lot about themselves.