Atholton fends off Mt. Hebron
Vikings force fifth set, but Raiders hold on to win first regional title since 1996
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.