It didn’t take long for the River Hill volleyball team to show it was ready for a huge early season showdown at Glenelg Thursday night.
The Hawks jumped out to a 9-1 lead and never looked back in a four-set, 25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 25-17, victory over the last year’s county champions and 3A state finalists.
“I thought for the first match, I was thrilled with how we performed,” said River Hill coach Lynn Paynter. “We came out strong like we said we wanted to.”
In victory the Hawks proved they have the potential to be one of the top in Howard County. Paynter says it’s not a surprise this team is for real, despite a 5-8 county record a year ago.
“Last year we pretty much had a losing season, but I don’t want to call it a losing season – I would call it a preparation for this season,” she said. “I started all juniors last year, and now they’re seniors, and there’s a difference. There’s maturity, there’s confidence, there’s more time on the court, and I think that’s where it really shows. They really want it.”
The Hawks jumped out to the early first-set lead, but it evaporated quickly as the Gladiators tied the game, 13-13, and then took a late 23-22 lead. But one of Emily Luo’s eight kills and an ace from Isabel Paci put the set away for River Hill.
It was clear any nervous energy of letting a big lead slip away disappeared after taking the opening set.
“(Winning the first set) was huge. It was the key to the whole match as far as I was concerned,” Paynter said. “We had a little bit of momentum ... and when you win that first one there’s just that much more energy that you have behind you.”
The second set looked a lot like the first as River Hill won the first seven points with Brianna Davis behind the service line. She had three aces and added two assists in the first six points, and the Hawks carried the momentum on throughout the set to take a commanding 2-0 set lead.
“The sets we did lose, we were spotting River Hill 8-1 or 9-1 leads,” said Glenelg coach Jason Monjes. “It came down to serving versus serve-receive.”
The Gladiators are a strong serving team themselves and put it on display to open the third set. They took a 4-0 lead with Alex Wood behind the line, and with an 8-4 lead Emma Buch served four more straight points to make it 12-4.
Glenelg would hold off a late River Hill rally, which cut it to 20-18, and take the third set, 25-21.
“We have to be able to maintain possession of serve to give us a shot at really fighting. In that third set you saw that," Monjes said. "We started off with a great lead. We basically mirrored each other. We lost because of the exact same reasons we lost sets 1, 2 and 4.”
But just when it looked like the Gladiators figured out their serving game, the Hawks kept on pounding it in to take a 7-1 lead in the fourth set. Davis notched another ace, while Sammy Lala had two in the early run.
“We had a really strong serving night. We really push every practice and push for (serves in) deep corners,” said River Hill senior Isabel Paci, who had seven kills, three aces and 16 digs. “We try to make it hard on the setter so we can keep her out of the rotation.”
The Hawks’ victory throws another wrench in what will be a wide-open county race this fall. But one thing was clear from the victory for Paynter – “We have a great team.
“I’m excited. I’m thrilled for the rest of our season. We play Mt. Hebron next, which is really good. We don’t have an easy game this season. ... We play Hebron and Glenelg twice, but the good part of it is we could face one of those teams in the semifinals of regionals. So we might as well have a season that starts this way and comes down to that late in the year.”
River Hill (1-0) def. Glenelg (0-1), 3-1 (25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 25-17)
River Hill – Isabel Paci (7 kills, 16 digs, 3 aces); Sammy Lala (7 kills, 4 aces); Emily Luo (8 kills, 2 blocks); Hannah Siaurusaitis (4 kills, 6 blocks); Joyce Zhaung (3 kills, 5 blocks); Brianna Davis (27 assists, 5 aces); Haley Armacost (16 digs, 4 aces)
Glenelg – Rachael Girard (19 assists, 11 digs, 2 aces, 1 block); Kristen Thesing (20 digs, 2 aces, 1 assist); Molly Jordan (9 kills)
Howard (2-0) def. Atholton (0-1), 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 29-27)
Marriotts Ridge (1-0) def. Oakland Mills (0-1), 3-0 (25-10, 25-20, 25-11)
Hammond (1-0) def. Wilde Lake (0-1), 3-2 (25-12, 26-28, 17-25, 25-20, 15-9)
Chapelgate (2-1) def. Institute of Notre Dame, 3-1
Centennial (1-0) def. Long Reach (1-1), 3-0