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Walking into the Reservoir gym Wednesday night was like entering a time machine.

The year was 2007. The student section was packed 15 rows deep with no room to spare. Carole Ferrante was at the helm of a team that had expectations of greatness with anything less than a state championship-run being deemed a failure.

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A dozen years ago this fall was the last time the Gators’ gym looked like it did Wednesday night. Most importantly, the result on the court was also a moment of déjà vu for the program, as Reservoir beat three-time defending region champions Atholton in straight sets — 25-16, 25-22, 25-21 — to win the 3A East, Region II championship.

It’s the Gators’ fourth regional title and first since they won three in four years from 2004 to 2007. They will face an opponent that is to be determined Thursday morning on Friday or Saturday in a 3A state quarterfinal.

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Several freshmen have made significant impacts on their varsity teams this fall.

“There’s something in this building that needed that. I’m watching that crowd fill in tonight and I literally had goosebumps,” said Ferrante, who returned as head coach this season after five years away. “That was what every single home game we had — and even traveling — that’s what it was like (in 2007). It’s just this really great positive energy that the girls have and that the school community has supporting us.”

For Ferrante and her team that consists of a mix of seniors that had four coaches in four years, a freshmen class as talented as any around and juniors anxious for consistency, the goal from Day 1 of tryouts was to put another banner on the gym wall that had been empty for too long.

The journey here, however, was chalked full of challenges. Injuries took their toll. A flu made its way around the team. Ferrante thought two weeks ago, “this isn’t happening.” Reservoir lost three of its last four games of the regular season.

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The Vikings beat the Mustangs in four sets to advance to the 3A East, Region I championship game.

But something clicked, “and now I feel like we’re driving on all cylinders,” Ferrante said. “I feel like we are really poised to make a run at this point.”

The Gators (11-5) came out swinging — literally. They set the tone early with serving that consistently put Atholton (10-6) on the ropes and out of system, while freshman Mayah Tucker and juniors Kayla Browne and Maddie Barrett did enough offensively, combining for seven kills in a 25-16 victory in the opening set that turned with different runs of 8-0 and 6-0.

The second stanza had both the home and visiting crowd sitting on the edge of their seats. It featured 14 ties, including each time one team reached the score of 12 through 22, but the Gators took control with the confident right arm of Browne and her topspin serve. Up 23-22, she put down back-to-back aces to finish the set and give Reservoir a 2-0 lead.

Browne had not been using the topspin serve all season. Ferrante said it’s something the entire team works on at practice but only Tucker had been utilizing until recently when Browne worked up the courage to use it in matches.

Volleyball state playoff brackets released

The MPSSAA released the volleyball playoff brackets on Oct. 28.

“The girls’ game is very heavily float served, and the topspin is very difficult to receive because they just don’t see it enough,” Ferrante said. “... It’s just going out there and having the confidence to do it.”

The Raiders weren’t going down without a fight. When it looked like the Gators were going to run them out of the gym and led 14-6 in the third set after Jessica Rothermel had four straight aces, they scratched and clawed their way back into it. Senior Chanelle Smith had two kills and a block and found a groove during a 13-3 run that put Atholton ahead 19-17, but once again Reservoir’s big hitters came through in the clutch.

Browne and Tucker combined for three kills during a seven-point span that gave the Gators a 22-21 advantage, and Tucker had her turn with the topspin serve at the crucial moment and had two straight aces to set up match point, which Barrett put away with a kill to the corner.

Reservoir finished the night with 16 aces. Tucker led way offensively with 12 kills and freshman libero Gabby Allen had 21 digs. Smith had seven kills and five blocks and junior Ryan Rorls added six kills for the Raiders.

“They served us off the court,” Atholton coach Larry Schofield said. “Our serve receive was bad, got better, and then at 22-21 kind of disappeared again.”

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The Raiders’ run of dominance in Howard County and the 3A classification came to an end with the loss. They went 19-0 last year en route to the state title but this year, Schofield said, “it was too much of a rollercoaster ride.” He noted he has a young team that will be ready to compete at a high level again next year.

OTHER SCORES:

Westminster def. Mt. Hebron — 3-0 [28-26, 25-18, 25-18]

The Vikings (13-3) fell to the Owls (16-0) in the 3A East, Region I championship game.

Arundel def. Howard — 3-0 [25-17, 25-12, 25-11]

The Lions (12-4) lost to the Wildcats (16-0) in the 4A East, Region I championship game.

Century def. Oakland Mills — 3-0 [25-12, 25-13, 25-16]

The Scorpions (4-13) lost to the Knights (14-2) in the 2A West, Region I championship game.

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