Atholton fends off Mt. He­bron

Vik­ings force fifth set, but Raiders hold on to win first re­gional ti­tle since 1996

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Brent Kennedy

One year af­ter watch­ing its sea­son end in the re­gional fi­nal, the Atholton vol­ley­ball team got a shot at re­demp­tion Fri­day night and didn’t waste it.

In a five-set thriller be­tween two of Howard County’s pow­er­house pro­grams, the No. 5 Raiders held off sev­eral come­back at­tempts by No. 2 Mount He­bron to earn a 25-23, 10-25, 25-18, 32-34, 15-12 vic­tory and win the Class 3A East ti­tle.

The re­gional cham­pi­onship is the first for Atholton (13-4) since1996 and ad­vances the team into a state semi­fi­nal Sun­day against Tow­son.

“Win­ning the last point was so in­sane be­cause we were like, ‘Push one [more point], push one,’ and we kept say­ing that. And that last point, when they shanked it, it was just crazy,” said Atholton se­nior Sa­man­tha Miller, who fin­ished with a team-high 21 kills to go along with nine digs and five blocks. “I was just over­joyed with emo­tion and I started cry­ing.”

At the end of a night filled with wild swings of mo­men­tum for both teams and a fourth set that fea­tured 16 ties and 10 lead changes, Atholton coach Rob Moy said the dif­fer­ence was his team’s big plays in big spots.

“Hon­estly, it came down to our girls. They were fo­cused and they pulled to­gether when they needed to tonight,” he said. “We got a lit­tle con­fi­dent at times and our leads dwin­dled away, and that’s part of the game, but the kids were strong though and showed a lot of char­ac­ter.

“Af­ter that fourth game, los­ing like that, we could have been done. But they pulled them­selves to­gether and said they wanted this win. We’ve been talk­ing about get­ting here since the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, and they pulled through.”

For Mount He­bron (15-2), the loss was the team’s first since the open­ing game of the sea­son, against Howard. But even in de­feat, the Vik­ings showed tough­ness, bounc­ing back from set deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to force the win­ner-take-all fifth set.

“Heart and be­lief in each other — that’s what they’ve had all year long, and tonight was no dif­fer­ent,” Mount He­bron coach Michael Moyni­han said. “We were down [five] at one point in that fourth set and came back to win it, 34-32, and that’s just a tes­ta­ment to these girls. In the end, we just couldn’t stop their out­side hit­ters, and that was dif­fer­ence.”

Atholton’s com­bi­na­tion of Miller and Lisa Zoch (19 kills, 10 digs) was strong all evening. When the Raiders needed a point, the duo seemed to al­ways be in the right place at the right time.

Moy said it’s been that way all sea­son.

“They were linch­pins for kills, and they al­ways are. I would ar­gue with any­one that they are the best tan­dem of out­sides in the county, if not the state, this year,” he said.

Miller and Zoch were set up time and again by Hope Kelly, who fin­ished with 47 as­sists. And the Raiders seemed to be clicking right from the get-go, win­ning a back-and-forth open­ing set to grab the early mo­men­tum.

“That first set, we knew it was very im­por­tant be­cause we know it’s def­i­nitely a con­fi­dence booster,” Miller said. “Some­times we get down in the be­gin­ning and we can’t come back from that, so we knew to be able to con­tinue that en­ergy and that en­thu­si­asm through­out the whole match, we had to win that first one.”

Mount He­bron did bounce back to earn a vic­tory in the sec­ond set, clos­ing with six straight points to win by 15.

But Atholton re­grouped to take con­trol of the third set early and never trailed on the way to a 2-1 over­all lead.

With their backs against the wall, the Vik­ings dug deep to win one of the sea­son’s most mem­o­rable sets.

It took staving off five match points, but Mount He­bron made the plays nec­es­sary to stay alive.

“I knew we were so close, so when we didn’t win it, I’ll be hon­est, it crushed me,” Miller said. “So [go­ing into] that fifth set, I was like, ‘This has to be it.’ ”

But the Raiders took the lead right away and then held on for the win.

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