Atholton falls short in finals against Loch Raven


Atholton's momentum toward a state volleyball championship finally ended yesterday in the second game of the title match.

No. 6-ranked Atholton played a near-flawless first game but could not maintain that level and No. 2 Loch Raven came back to win the Class 2A championship, 2-15, 15-11, 15-11, 15-8, yesterday at Catonsville Community College.

"Volleyball's such a touchy momentum sport," said Atholton coach Sybil Kessinger. "One person makes a mistake and you can watch a team that's way up in the rafters playing great fall back down to the floor. It just was a couple mistakes and we started floating down and then we were fighting ourselves."

Riding a seven-game winning streak that included an upset of defending champ Glenelg, Atholton (13-7) could not have played much better in the first game.

Except for a handful of service mistakes and one hitting error, Atholton overwhelmed Loch Raven with tenacious defense and powerful offense. Jennifer Ponzette had six of her match-high 17 kills and Amanda Williams added five of her 14.

"No. 5 [Ponzette] had an outstanding game," said Loch Raven coach Carol McPherson. "They were really scrappy. They got up a lot of our hits, and their serving was much better than ours."

In the second game, however, Loch Raven (18-0) shook off its early jitters and battled back.

After 10 scoreless service rotations, Loch Raven took a 4-0 lead and built it to 10-5. Atholton pulled back within 12-10 on Williams' cross-court kill but could not get closer.

Atholton also fell behind in the third game but battled back to tie at 8. Then Loch Raven scored three of its next four points on Atholton mistakes. Leading 12-8, Loch Raven won on kills by Jaclyn Shields (10 kills), Shannon Towner and Kelley Powell (nine kills).

Despite a couple of rebounds in the fourth game, Atholton really never managed to get into the match.

"We just couldn't kick it over," said Ponzette. "When they started getting ahead, we couldn't get it together. We started slowly falling apart as a team."

Trailing 5-3 in the final game, Atholton suffered a blow when Williams and Ariana Lowenbach banged heads going for a pass. Lowenbach left the game, but Williams kept playing.

"We had a couple great points and Ari went down," said Kessinger. "You either do one of two things when someone gets hurt -- you either play great or you lose your focus."

Atholton lost its focus and Loch Raven rolled up the next five points. On one last stand, Atholton rallied to within 12-8 with a four-point run that included a point block from setter Eileen McQueeney (15 assists) and Kendra Gottsman's ace.

Loch Raven finished the match on an Atholton hitting error and two aces from Tiggy Stevens.

With its first championship since winning Class 3A titles in 1987 and 1988, Loch Raven ended a six-year Howard County hold on the Class 2A title. Before Glenelg won last year, Mount Hebron had won two titles and Atholton had taken the two before that.

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