Atholton volleyball coach Larry Schofield said his team’s main goal this season was to “hit a home run”, which meant winning the Westminster tournament on Sept. 8, defending its county and regional titles and securing its second state title in three years.
Less than a week into the 2018 campaign, Broadneck ruined those aspirations. The Bruins took advantage of Atholton being without reigning Player of the Year Lisa Zoch, who suffered an ankle injury on the second day of full practice, and picked up a two-sets-to-zero victory in the Westminster tournament quarterfinals. The Raiders’ players did not take the defeat lightly.
“After we lost, we were really disappointed in ourselves because we knew we weren’t playing our best,” Zoch said. “We’re capable of a lot more than we showed that weekend at that tournament.”
That potential shined through against Broadneck on Monday night, as Atholton showed why it’s No. 1 in The Baltimore Sun’s latest high school volleyball poll. With Zoch playing in her second match of the year after returning against Severna Park on Friday, the Raiders avenged their tournament loss to the eighth-ranked Bruins by way of a 25-13, 25-14, 25-22 triumph.
“Having Lisa back in there, it solidifies the defense and the offense, and everyone just rises up to the occasion when she’s out there,” Schofield said. “So, that was a big thing. We had to show them that, ‘Hey, we’re not the same team that you saw back on the eighth of September. This is our regular lineup.’”
Zoch led Atholton (3-0 overall) with nine kills and five aces and added 1.5 blocks. Ryan Rorls and Jessica Humphries helped out by combining for nine kills, while Wande Sogbesan added 3.5 blocks.
The Raiders seized momentum from the onset, winning nine of the first 10 points to force Broadneck to use the first of its two opening-set timeouts. Later in the set, the Bruins needed another break down, 15-4.
The Bruins’ undoing was partly internal. In addition to Atholton’s clean play, the Bruins gave their opponents quick, easy points with an abundance of errors. Their performance improved towards the end of the set, when they secured seven of eight points to pull within, 19-12, but another error shifted the serve back to the Raiders, who capitalized by taking five of the next six points to win the set.
The second set was more competitive, as Atholton and Broadneck traded the first 24 points. But from there, the set belonged to Zoch. She secured a kill to put the Raiders ahead, 14-12, and had another kill moments later to make the score, 15-13. She then served the Raiders’ next five points; a stretch that included three service aces and another kill, setting her team up for its eventual 25-14 set victory.
“Our passing and serving was really strong tonight,” Zoch said. “We had a lot of great energy and fed off of each other really well. I think our team dynamic was really on tonight, and I think that helped us get a lot of our points and keep our communication together.”
Meanwhile, Broadneck (1-2) struggled from the service line throughout its straight-set loss. Coach Tracey Regalbuto estimates her players totaled 10 service errors, which prevented them from stringing together points and building momentum. The Bruins also had service troubles in a 3-0 defeat against No. 2 South River in their regular season opener, Regalbuto said.
Makena Smith and Emma Quandt did their best to keep Broadneck in the match, as Smith totaled 29 assists and 12 digs and Quandt had 10 kills and seven digs. The duo also combined for 21 service points.
However, an uneven team effort overshadowed their promising individual performances.
“Volleyball is all about momentum,” Regalbuto said. “If another team starts with it big, then you’re constantly playing catchup, and that’s how I felt tonight. We were constantly playing catchup.”
Broadneck played its best during the third set. Not only did the Bruins start off strong, but they answered Atholton’s scoring streak in the middle of the set with a run of their own. Down, 21-14, the Bruins scored seven of the next eight points to pull within one.
But that is as close as they would get. Ahead, 23-22, Atholton scored the next two points to secure its revenge.
“I told them a couple of times when my record was 19-1 and we lost in the state championship,” Schofield said. “I said, ‘That feels like a losing record. So, let’s get a loss out of the way now. I want to see how you react, and I want to see how you bounce back.’
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“The reaction? They didn’t like to lose, which is good,” he added. “But they did bounce back against Severna Park, and our practices last week were pretty good.”