Atholton junior Elise Park talks about her team's 3-1 win at Centennial on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (Tim Schwartz / BSMG staff video)
When Atholton won the 3A state championship last fall, none of the players were alive when the Raiders last won the title in 1989.
"I haven't been alive for 27 years, so I can't gauge that time," then-sophomore Lisa Zoch said after beating Damascus in four sets. "It's a long time."
But on Tuesday at Centennial, Atholton accomplished a feat that dates back even longer than the previous 27 year state-championship drought. The Raiders' 3-1 victory (22-25, 25-14, 25-22, 25-23) — which was anything but easy and required a serious fourth-set comeback — marked the first time since 1988 that they have earned at least a share of the Howard County championship.
They can cap an undefeated county season and win the title outright with a win at Oakland Mills on Thursday.
"Honestly, we didn't talk about it that much," Raiders senior Kelly Simons said. "We knew we needed to win to be county champs, but we know that we're going to have to face [Centennial] again in playoffs. So we wanted to make sure we won and prepare ourselves for that."
Atholton coach Rob Moy also said he didn't give it much thought, especially considering how the Eagles, who could've had a shot at earning a share of the title with a victory, are to beat. But the goal headed into the season was to win the "triple crown," or win the county, region and state championships, and they officially accomplished the first step.
"It was really important for them to win this first, at least that's how they felt," Moy said. "I am more concerned about states, but it's nice to have the first.
"I'll tell you, Centennial is tough. You can never count them out of a match."
The Eagles' play throughout most of the fourth set indicated they were ready to take the match to a fifth set and take control of their own county-championship destiny. They took a 9-2 lead to force an Atholton timeout, and then won the next two points after the halt of action to make it 11-2.
From there, however, the Raiders (10-0 Howard County, 12-1 overall) methodically chipped away. They won the next two points and four of the next six to cut the deficit to 13-6, and then turned it on and won five straight points. Centennial (8-2, 9-4), however, answered with a 5-1 run to take a commanding 18-12 advantage.
After a timeout, the Raiders once again found their groove. Zoch had two kills and an ace in a six-point span, and a Ryan Rorls block and Simons ace continued a 6-0 run that gave Atholton its first lead of the set, 21-20. Jackie Sterenberg (17 kills) and Sarah Allen (six kills) had back-to-back kills for Centennial, but the Raiders showed their resolve and won the final three points, the last on a kill by Zoch, to close the match.
Centennial coach Michael Bossom said the Raiders are a tough team to close out because of their depth of hitters. Zoch led the way with 16 kills but four others had at least five. Rorls added nine kills, Simons and Chanelle Smith had seven, and Brooke Mason pitched in with five.
They also had five different players combine for nine blocks and served 11 aces, including five from Sabrina Lagomarsino.
"The fact that in every rotation that they go through, they have a hitter that can score points," Bossom said. "It's not always Lisa, but a lot of times it's Lisa, but if you key on her then somebody else is going to capable of stepping up. Kelly Simons scored some points in big spots, and they don't make a lot of errors."
The Eagles never trailed the entirety of the opening set and led by as much as six, only to see Atholton rally and tie the score at 21. They won four of the final five points to put the pressure on the Raiders, who responded by winning the first nine points in the second set and cruise to tie the match at a set apiece.