Atholton volleyball wins five-set thriller over Mt. Hebron to secure 3A East region championship
One year after watching its season end in the region championship, Atholton got a shot at redemption on Friday night and didn’t waste it.
In a five-set thriller between two of Howard County’s powerhouse programs this fall, the Raiders held off several valiant comeback attempts by the host Vikings to ultimately earn a 25-23, 10-25, 25-18, 32-34, 15-12 victory and possession of this year’s 3A East region title.
The region championship is the first for the Atholton (13-4) program since 1996 and advances the team into a state semifinal match-up on Nov. 14 against Towson.
“Winning the last point was so insane because we were like push one [more point], push one and we kept saying that [all night]. And that last point, when they shanked it, it was just crazy,” said Atholton senior Samantha Miller, who finished with a team-high 21 kills to go along with nine digs and five blocks. “I was just overjoyed with emotion and I started crying.”
At the end of a night filled with wild swings of momentum for both teams and an epic fourth set that featured 16 ties and 10 lead changes, Atholton coach Rob Moy said it came down to his girls simply making plays in big spots.
“Honestly, it came down to our girls. They were focused and they pulled together when they needed to tonight,” he said. “We got a little confident at times and our leads dwindled away, and that’s part of the game, but the kids were strong though and showed a lot of character.
“After that fourth game, losing like that, we could have been done. But they pulled themselves together and said they wanted this win — we’ve been talking about getting here since the beginning of the season and they pulled through.”
For Mt. Hebron (15-2), the loss was the team’s first since its opening game of the season against Howard. But, even in defeat, the Vikings showed tremendous resiliency while bouncing back from set deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to force the winner-take-all fifth set.
“Heart and belief in each other — that’s what they’ve had all year long and tonight was no different,” Mt. Hebron coach Michael Moynihan said. “We were down (five) at one point in that fourth set and came back to win it 34-32 and that’s just a testament to these girls. In the end, we just couldn’t stop their outside hitters and that was difference.”
Atholton’s combination of Miller and Lisa Zoch (19 kills, 10 digs) was deadly all evening. When the Raiders needed a point, the duo seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.
Moy said it’s been that way all season.
“They were lynchpins for kills and they always are. I would argue with anyone that they are the best tandem of outsides in the county, if not the state this year,” he said.
Miller and Zoch were set up time and again by Hope Kelly, who finished with 47 assists. And the Raiders seemed to be clicking right from the get go, winning a back-and-forth opening set to grab the early momentum.
“That first set, we knew it was very important because we know it’s definitely a confidence booster,” Miller said. “Sometimes we get down in the beginning and we can’t come back from that, so we knew to be able to continue that energy and that enthusiasm throughout the whole match we had to win that first one.”
Mt. Hebron did bounce right back to earn a convincing victory in set two, closing with six straight points to win by 15.
However, Atholton regrouped to take control of the third set early on and never trailed in the period on the way to a 2-1 lead overall.
With their backs against the wall, the Vikings dug down to win one of the season’s most memorable sets. Neither team gave an inch, trading blows back and forth.
It took staving off five match points, but Mt. Hebron did make the plays necessary to stay alive.
“I knew we were so close, so when we didn’t win it, I’ll be honest, it crushed me,” Miller said. “So (going into) that fifth set, I was like this has to be it.”
Atholton may have been shaken, but the team didn’t act like it. The Raiders came out in the decisive fifth set and took the lead right away and then methodically maintained it. While Mt. Hebron made its runs to get close, Atholton never trailed at any point in the fifth on the way to pulling out the victory.
While disappointed in the outcome, Moynihan said afterward his girls have so many reasons to hold their heads up high.
“This hurts, this really hurts. But in a week they will be able to reflect on the season and realize all the great memories they’ve had,” he said. “So many great wins, beating our rival Centennial twice, being county champions … all of that will percolate above the pain of this.”