High school volleyball has changed drastically over the years.
Centennial’s dynasty in the 1990s and 2000s can be credited to the fact that many of its players competed on club teams year-round when most other high schools teams were lucky to have any. Now, it’s more likely that a high school team in Howard County has more players who compete for club teams than don’t. The field has evened out and the competition is better than ever.
The libero was introduced in 2006, which changed the way coaches taught hitters where to hit and who to hit to. It added a new dimension to the back row and changed the way the game was played offensively and defensively.
But even considering the different eras and how times have changed, there is a legitimate question to be asked: Where does Atholton senior outside hitter Lisa Zoch rank among the best to ever play in Howard County?
“She’s definitely in the top five to 10,” said Centennial coach Michael Bossom, whose eight state championships are the most in state history.
“It’s so tough to say because I feel like volleyball has changed so much over the years, and in the last 10 years it’s changed drastically,” said Oakland Mills coach Kristin Anderson, who won a state championship at Centennial in 2008. “But I would certainly argue that she’s probably in the top 10 or 15.”
Highlights of Atholton volleyball's 3A state championship-victory over Bel Air at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Tuesday, November 20, 2018.
Atholton coach Larry Schofield, who coached Anderson’s state championship team that went 20-0, would put Zoch is in the top two or three.
“I had the ‘killer bees,’ Liz Brown [the 2009 Howard County Times Player of the Year] and Samantha Brostrom [the 2010 Howard County Times Player of the Year], and Brostrom could terminate and Brown was really smart. Lisa is almost a combination of the two of them,” he said. “They were both tremendous players and Lisa really embodies the best of those girls. ... Lisa’s smartness is what kept us going.
“You want me to talk about the [greatest of all time]? She’s probably the best volleyball player Atholton has produced.”
No matter where she ranks in the opinion of others, there is no denying she is among the greats and no doubting her impact on an Atholton program that was middling for the two decades before she arrived. As a sophomore, Zoch helped the Raiders win their regional title in 26 seasons and their first state championship in 27 years. During her junior campaign she carried the team to its first county title since 1988 and repeated as 3A East regional champions while earning Howard County Times Player of the Year.
The Atholton Raiders varsity volleyball team defeated the Bel Air Bobcats, 3-0, in the MPSSAA Class 3A state championship game at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Tuesday, November 20, 2018.
It was the most dominant Howard County team since Centennial’s 2008 team a decade ago and is in the conversation for the best in county history. Atholton won all 11 county matches in a 3-0 sweep, and in 60 sets played it lost just three all season, the same number of sets the Eagles lost 10 years ago. The Raiders capped a perfect 19-0 season with an easy 3-0 victory over Bel Air in the 3A title game, and Zoch, a unanimous selection to repeat as Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year, was the straw the stirred the drink.
“It was a really talented group of girls that just happen to come together this one year, and I’m really grateful I got to be a part of it,” she said. “All the seniors and the talent and attitude we displayed early in the season, that kind of set the pace. Everyone knew the expectation and everyone knew the goal. Once that was established, we sort of realized what worked best was having fun and not worrying about anything else.”
Zoch’ individual statistics this season don’t necessarily jump off the page, and she was slowed by an ankle injury that cost her the entire preseason, the Westminster Tournament and the first match of the season. Her 213 kills and 3.7 per set were the second-most in the county and she added noteworthy totals of 36 aces, 131 digs and 29 blocks. Her dominance, however, was on display in one way or another every time the 6-foot senior stepped onto the court.
Schofield called her one of the smartest and versatile players he’s ever been around. She could beat you with strength and powerful kills or finesse and perfect ball placement. She could dig anything in the back row and leave opposing hitters wondering how she did it. She could block in the front row and be a step ahead of everyone else, and she could serve as well as anyone in the county.
“I think one of the things that Lisa does very well is she isn’t a one-skill player. She plays good defense, serves well, hits very well, blocks well, and she can also set,” Bossom said. “Of all the players I’ve seen earn Howard County Player of the Year, she’s one of the most well-rounded and best athletes I’ve seen.”
Anderson said as dominating as Zoch was offensively, her defensive abilities — especially for someone of her height — were equally as impressive.
“Her defense is insane ... she’s like a ball magnet. She literally just knows where the ball is going to go and she’s going to chase after it and pursue it, and on offense, she’s not just showing you her power but she has such a diverse toolkit,” said Anderson, who recalls watching a 13-year-old Zoch smash balls across the court playing for the 15-year-old team.
Her ability to play every aspect of the game at an above average-level separated her from the rest. Schofield would ask his team: what hurts more, your body hitting the floor or the ball?
From an outsider’s perspective — one that doesn’t understand the intricate details of the game like Schofield, Bossom or Anderson do — the trait that stood out the most for Zoch was ability to be herself on the court. Schofield said there is very little ego in what she does and she liked all her teammates and everyone seemed to like her. She had a unique ability to put herself out there as a leader and at times be a follower, “and that’s the neat thing about her,” he said.
Nobody had more fun Zoch. She smiled and laughed with teammates between points and sets all season long, and during an intermission of the state championship game, what would be one of the most stressful moments for most players, Zoch performed a minute-long swing dance with her teammate and best friend Elise Park before finishing off the Bobcats in the next set. She was always loose no matter the situation, and it was infectious.
“Yeah, in a way this was the most fun I’ve had playing sports. High school is so different than travel ball or any club team you’ll ever play on, the way everyone sees each other every day for practices, you pass each other in the hallways, you have classes together, you have the same friends, the games and the bus rides and all those memories you make are so different,” she said. “We definitely made some good ones this year.”
The Atholton Raiders varsity volleyball team defeated the Westminster Owls, 3-1, in a MPSSAA Class 3A state semifinal match at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum on Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
She will always cherish those memories, but her legacy goes beyond that. Over Zoch’s four-year varsity career, Atholton went 62-11 and she totaled 786 kills, 609 digs and 190 aces. Her classmates have told her that Atholton has become a “volleyball school,” which she thinks is true and also pretty cool considering where the program came from.
“We made our mark,” she said. “Before this class of seniors came in, Atholton volleyball had won two state championships and made the finals a few times forever ago, but two state championships within the span of three years; I think we really put our name out there. This group of seniors helped develop a culture among the volleyball program here, and that is something that I think is going to last years after we leave.”
Zoch is still undecided on which college she wants to play for but like her playing style, she knows exactly what she is looking for, and it’s everything that she found at Atholton: challenging academics, diversity, quality social aspects, great teachers and a top-notch volleyball program. She is considering several Division I schools, as well as some Division II and III.
“She can play back row defense, she can hit in the front row ... and she’s definitely got the smarts on and off the court,” Schofield said. “She has the ability to succeed anywhere she goes.”
Also named to first-team All-County:
Devin Hill, River Hill, senior, outside hitter
Whenever River Hill needed a kill, it looked Hill’s way time and time again. The three-year starter was a player “you looked forward to seeing when you walked into the gym,” Hawks coach Lynn Paynter said, adding that her enthusiasm and energy was infectious.
Hill, who will play college volleyball at Salisbury, finished the season with the sixth-most kills in the county with 172 to go with a .312 hitting percentage. She was a captain this season and fostered a strong and supportive relationship with her younger teammates by leading by example, Paynter said.
“Devin flourished with the faster sets this season and quickly learned accuracy and placement were keys to her success,” Paynter said.
Maddie Myers, Glenelg, junior, outside hitter
Myers was a home-schooled student for her first two years of high school but was a seamless fit this season with the Gladiators. She immediately set the tone by earning MVP honors at the Linganore Tournament that Glenelg won, and her energy and passion lifted the team to another level this fall.
She led the team in kills (188) and digs (264) and helped lead the Gladiators to a 10-1 county mark and an appearance in the 2A state championship game. Myers was just as successful on the defensive side as well and was the team’s most consistent player on serve receives. She is being recruited by Penn State and Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Her unwillingness to lose” is what makes her so successful, Glenelg coach Jason Monjes said. “Maddie has the drive of someone who does not want to let anything get in her way. Her drive will eventually lead into a Division I commitment.”
Nelson was arguably the best freshman in the county this decade. A six-rotation player who finished third in the county with 208 kills, she made her teammates better and helped the Scorpions to a six-win season.
“She was fundamental to running an efficient offense and ensuring there would be a productive swing on the ball even if the team started off the rally with a weaker pass,” Oakland Mills coach Kristin Anderson said. “She is a player who constantly betters the ball. We had weaker ball control at times, but she was able to get rallies back on track.”
Nelson is also an accomplished pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall, and on the court she helped her club team reach the USAV Nationals for two years in a row and win the Beast of the East tournament at the 14 Open level. One of her season highlights came against Marriotts Ridge when she had 29 kills, eight aces and 20 digs.
“I expect her to fulfill even more of a leadership role in mentoring the younger girls as she begins to realize the impact she could have on the program at Oakland Mills,” Anderson said. “She is an extremely coachable kid who can only go up from here.”
Elise Park, Atholton, senior, libero
On one of the best defensive teams in the state, Park was the Raiders’ best defender. She was a three-year varsity player and two-year starter who led by example and was coach Larry Schofield’s “conduit” to the team in practices and matches.
“I would convey to her what I wanted and she would make it happen,” he said. “Elise kept the team focused on the end result and would ask, ‘Is this helping us get to [the state championship game on] November 20th?’”
Park, who also earned first-team All-County honors a year ago, finished the season with 189 digs, 28 aces and 39 assists and had one of her best games of the season in the state championship-victory against Bel Air. Her 545 career digs is a school record.
“You lead by example on and off the court and Elise did this starting over the summer during speed and agility training,” Schofield said. “Her hustle and focus were evident at every practice.”
Chanelle Smith, Atholton, junior, middle blocker
Home and away crowds would routinely ooh and aah when Smith got a hold of a pass and thundered it down on the gym floor. The 6-foot-2 junior was the most imposing player in the league but was equally as quiet off it.
“Everyone on the team recognized Chanelle as an unstoppable offensive force, but during practice she worked harder on her backcourt defense. This pushed the regular defensive specialists to work harder,” Raiders coach Larry Schofield said. “Off the court she is a quiet, respectful, unassuming teammate. A lioness on the court, a lamb off.”
Smith, who has verbally committed to Georgetown University, was second in the county with 64 blocks — including 41 solo — and added 119 kills. Against River Hill, she was set 12 times and had 11 kills with no errors.
“Chanelle could put on a hitting display that was awe-inspiring,” Schofield said. “I would challenge her to hit the attack line or a cone and she could do it.”
Maddie Southern, Glenelg, senior, setter
Southern could do it all for the Gladiators. She’s been the starting setter since her sophomore season and was second in the league this year with 469 assists, but she also was one of the most reliable defenders and could hammer down a kill if needed. Against River Hill in the 2A South regional championship game, Hawks coach Lynn Paynter said Southern was undoubtedly the key to Glenelg’s victory and highlighted her dominant all-around play. She finishes third in program history in assists.
“Maddie has always been a winner,” Gladiators coach Jason Monjes said. “Her athleticism but also team-first mentality made her and our program better. If Maddie didn't improve and want to go farther this year compared to our loss in the region final last year, we aren’t successful.”
Southern will play college lacrosse at Mount Saint Mary’s.
Nobody swung at more balls over the last two seasons than Sterenberg. The senior carried the scoring load this fall for the Eagles and led the county with 250 kills a year after finishing second in the league with 220. She was also one of the best servers in the area with a serving percentage over 90 while tallying 45 aces.
Sterenberg, a three-year varsity starter and a repeat first-team All-County selection, also earned the Side-Out/AVCA National Dig Pink Philanthropy award for her organizing efforts with the Dig Pink event she hosted at Centennial.
“She’s been a team captain the last two years and she brought an intensity to practice every day,” Eagles coach Michael Bossom said. “She was set front row and back row and was able to score with the pressure of other teams knowing the ball was going to her.”
Sterenberg will play collegiately at Frostburg.
Grace Sweet, Howard, senior, libero
Sweet is a four-year varsity player and three-year starter who was among the most consistent players in the league. Lions coach Grant Scott said she was an anchor on serve receive and defense the last three years and led the team in digs and serve receive average over that span. Also a first-team All-County libero last season, Sweet owns Howard’s single-season record (329) and career record (849) for digs and never gave up on a play, Scott said.
“Whether it was a regional championship game or a preseason practice, Grace played every point, every play, every touch with the same high intensity level,” he said. “Grace is the type of player that younger athletes in our program look up to and want to emulate. That is some of the highest praise a player can receive.”
Sweet will study elementary education and is weighing her playing options for college next season.