After a disappointing defeat to Howard a week ago, the River Hill volleyball team knows every game from this point on will have an impact on whether the Hawks earn a share of the county title.
So when they dropped the first set to Marriotts Ridge after 11 unforced errors on Oct. 20, coach Lynn Paynter could sense her team was playing tight.
"You could certainly see there were some nerves on the court in the first set," she said. "I think the first couple points they got us off our serve receive, and every step we were making the wrong steps and making a lot of unforced errors."
Instead of letting the set get to them, River Hill bounced back with an emphatic second set win, which was followed up with two tight set victories to beat the visiting Mustangs, 15-25, 25-7, 25-22, 25-22, on its Dig Pink night.
"They just has to refocus, and play the ball they know how to play," Paynter said. "Marriotts Ridge is a relentless team – you see how many matches they have gone to five sets. ... We knew we had to be prepared for defending a lot of balls.
"It's huge. After coming off of that loss to Howard, we have three games left in the regular season. This helped us get that momentum that we don't want to let die. We didn't want to say we lost to Howard and we're not good anymore. We wanted to move forward. It's just going to build that confidence."
After the first two lopsided sets, both teams seemed desperate to win the third set. Neither team led by more than three points throughout the game, but it was the Hawks that rallied behind senior Hannah Siaurusaitus late. She pounded four kills in the final nine points, including one that tied the score at 22-22, and Haley Armacost put down an ace for the final point to help lead River Hill to the 25-22 set win.
Paynter thinks her team just wanted it more.
"Determination," she said as the reason to winning that set. "I think they were determined to win that game because they had pretty much struggled through the entire game, then all of a sudden we pulled out in front, and that made the difference."
The fourth set was similar to the previous one with neither team making a long run to pull away. The Hawks led 16-12 after Joyce Zhaung's kill, but two Molly Meininger kills and an ace by Gabby Peitsch allowed Marriotts Ridge to win seven of the next eight points to take a 19-17 lead.
The Hawks rallied, however, thanks to Emily Luo and Brianna Davis. Luo's kill cut the deficit to 21-20, and Davis had a kill of her own to keep the deficit at one at 22-21. Davis' kill sparked the final run, as River Hill won the final five points to win the match in four sets.
"It was a really big game. We've heard that Marriotts Ridge is a really good team," said River Hill senior Isabel Paci, who finished with 12 kills. "We were really pushing through in this game, and they have really good hitters."
For the Mustangs, they came out firing to start the game, and coach Amanda Olsen wasn't surprised.
"All season long we've come out really strong in the first game," she said. "We knew obviously River Hill is the top seed right now in the county, so we definitely wanted to come out and play our best game. I think truthfully we caught them a little bit by surprise. They probably weren't expecting us to start off as strong as we did."
Peitsch led the way in the opening stanza, finishing with three kills, two blocks and an ace, but things took a turn for the worse in the second set.
The Hawks jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and even though the Mustangs battled back to cut the deficit to 6-4, River Hill pulled away behind an eight-point run to make it 14-4. Not one player dominated the set, as Sammy Lala (four), Paci (three), Zhaung (two) and Luo (two) each had multiple kills.
"The communication was really the big thing," Paci said. "That, and just going after every ball. We were really hesitant in the first game, and we weren't really going for everything. Once we started talking to each other, that really helped us really push through and drove us to win."
Siaurusaitus finished with 11 kills and three blocks, while Zhaung ended up with eight kills. Luo added eight kills for the Hawks, as well as four aces.
For Marriotts Ridge, Peitsch and Meininger each had nine kills, while Peitch added three blocks. Freshman Claire Meininger pitched in with five kills, and Rachel Dubbs had five aces.
River Hill (9-1, 9-1) def. Marriotts Ridge (5-5, 6-5), 3-1 (15-25, 25-7, 25-22, 25-22)
Centennial (8-2, 8-2) def. Glenelg (5-5, 6-5), 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-16)
Centennial stats: Emily Przybyla (3 kills, 30 assists, 5 digs); Rachel Mathew (3 kills, 3 digs, 1 block); Camryn Allen (10 kills, 2 aces, 17 digs); Gabby Fairley (2 kills, 5 digs); Emily Allen (9 kills, 1 ace, 2 digs); Liz Kwon (6 digs); Ally Rice (10 digs); Taylor Anderson (7 kills)
Glenelg stats: Rachael Girard (22 assists, 12 digs, 2 blocks); Molly Jordan (9 kills); Kristen Thesing (18 digs)
Howard (9-1, 10-2) def. Reservoir (5-5, 5-6), 3-1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22)
Howard stats: Sarah Sweet (18 kills); Torie Gettier (16 kills); Lauren Madison (12 kills, 3 blocks; Christina Kundrat (12 kills, 2 blocks); Julia McKenna (50 assists 2 aces); Val Greisman (22 digs)
Reservoir stats: Sydney Allen (10 kills, 12 digs); Amaka cChuckwujewku (13 kills); Diana Yuille (5 kills); Megan Lieb (29 assists, 11 digs); Jannet Jassi (13 digs); Barbara Kelley (23 digs)
Atholton (6-4, 7-4) def. Long Reach (0-10, 1-10), 3-0 (25-18, 25-11, 25-9)
Atholton stats: Catherina Park (2 kills, 4 digs); Kira Thompson (1 ace, 1 block); Samantha Miller (7 kills, 1 assist, 2 digs, 2 aces, 1 block); Kendall Perdue (1 kill); Lisa Zoch (7 kills, 2 digs, 3 aces); Emily Fishkind (11 assists, 10 aces, 1 dig); Gabriela Lagomarsino (1 kill, 10 assists, 3 digs); Kelly Simons (2 kills, 1 block); Eshana Parekh (1 kill); Brooke Mason (5 kills); Hope Kelly (2 digs, 1 aces)
Mt. Hebron vs. Wilde Lake
Oakland Mills vs. Hammond
Glenelg Country vs. Annapolis Area Christian
Atholton (5-4, 6-4) def. Frederick, 3-0 (25-14, 25-10, 25-8)