Atholton volleyball coach Larry Schofield hasn’t had to worry much about complacency when it comes to his undefeated Raiders this fall.
After all, it was just last season that the program’s bid for a second straight state championship was thwarted in the state semifinals by Northern-Calvert.
So this year, even as Atholton (17-0) has rattled off 12 consecutive straight set victories — including a sweep of Northeast on Friday night to capture the Raiders’ third straight 3A East region championship — the team has remained as focused as ever.
“If you notice, on the back of their warm up jerseys, they have the Chinese symbol for pursuit. We aren’t defending anything this season, we are pursuing that which got away from us last season,” Schofield said. “They set that as a goal from the very beginning, getting back there to Ritchie Coliseum. And we’ve talked a lot about the triple crown … county, region and states … and now we’ve got one more [crown] to go.”
The Raiders advance to face Westminster in the 3A state semifinals on Nov. 14.
Against Northeast, which came in looking for its first region title since 1989, Atholton had the look from the very beginning of a team that meant all business.
On the strength of dominant serving from Hannah Duncan and Ryan Rorls, the Raiders raced out to an 18-1 lead in the opening set and never looked back en route to taking that first game 25-3.
Duncan says playing at home in front of a rowdy student section, combined with falling short last season, was more than enough motivation to come out firing.
“I think the first points are so important of a game … because the crowd gets so excited and gets so into it. We are all really able to follow that,” Duncan said. “When we see ourselves being successful point after point after point, we understand what we are capable of and can use that as an example for the rest of the game.”
Northeast showed some life early in the second set, trailing just 7-6 in the early stages. But the Raiders quickly regrouped to score nine of the next 10 points and take control.
“Their hitters have incredible power and they really play well together … you can tell they’ve worked together for a long time now,” Northeast coach Meghan Kulzer said. “Their energy was just incredibly high from start to finish and we never were really able to build any significant momentum.”
Atholton ended up winning that second game 25-10 and then turned back to its strong serving at the onset of the third.
Duncan started things at the service line and then Esme Chu subbed in and kept the ball going, as the Raiders scored 13 straight points to open the third set.
“We told them that we needed to serve them tough and we practiced that yesterday,” Schofield said. “We knew that if we could take them out of system and not allow them to set their top couple hitters well, we were going to be in very good shape.”
Atholton ended up closing out the sweep with a 25-3 victory in the third game. Shortly after, the team was celebrating on the floor with the region championship plaque.
For as much as this title means, however, Duncan is quick to point out that there’s still plenty of work left.
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“Honestly, our team is hungry,” she said. “We know what it’s like to lose and we know what we have to do. We know that we have to grind and work hard for every single point just to be better than we were last year.”