After winning seven Harford County titles in the past 10 years, the John Carroll boys volleyball team joined the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association this season.
Yesterday, the new kids on the MIAA block looked more like the conference bullies.
The host Patriots rebounded from a sluggish start to register a convincing victory over three-time MIAA champion Calvert Hall in four games: 6-15, 15-9, 15-6, 15-7.
Senior middle hitter Corey Turner had 16 kills, junior Brendan Watts had 10 kills and junior setter Tyler Tilghman directed a balanced Patriots' attack with 38 assists, as John Carroll (5-0) prevailed in the battle of two unbeaten teams. Calvert Hall fell to 4-1.
"We were maybe a little nervous and over-excited, but we got it together and played our regular game. ... This is the biggest match we'll play all year," said Turner, who was dominant in the middle despite being hampered by torn cartilage in his left knee.
John Carroll coach Herb Simon said that Turner was going to have surgery after the match and may not be back until the end of the season.
Last year, a straight-sets loss to the Patriots, who have not lost a match since the 2000 season, was the only blemish on Calvert Hall's 16-1 campaign. Coach Jeff Blake said in that match, the Cardinals saw a style of play that they had never seen in the MIAA.
This time, they were a little more prepared to deal with John Carroll's more advanced setting and hitting schemes and it showed in the game one victory.
"We knew what was coming and we blocked well," Blake said. "We didn't all the time do exactly what we were supposed to. But again, that's going to come with experience and seeing this often."
Freshman Tom Montegna got the Cardinals off to a good start, serving two aces as Calvert Hall took a 4-0 lead. Thanks to a slew of John Carroll errors and the hitting of senior Ted Costello, the Cardinals' advantage swelled to 12-0, before they closed out the game on a Patriots' net violation.
"Once we got our hitters going, we woke up," said Tilghman. "We realized that this team was good, and we had to pick up our intensity."
Turner set the tone in Game 2, cranking a thunderous spike, followed by a service winner to give John Carroll an early advantage that it never relinquished. Turner had eight of his 16 kills in Game 2, including a touch shot that found the open court on match point.
Struggling with its passing, Calvert Hall fell behind early in games three and four.
"Everything in volleyball stems from passing," said Blake, whose team will get another shot at John Carroll on Oct. 17 at home. "We didn't pass well and we gave them opportunities. They didn't miss their opportunities."