Atholton ends a 20-year drought
Raiders sweep Towson, reach championship game for first time since 1996
COLLEGE PARK — Atholton’s volleyball coach, Rob Moy, had just graduated from college and was starting his first year of teaching and coaching in 1996. None of the Raiders’ current players had even been born yet.
That’s how long it’s been since Atholton last played in a state championship game, but that 20-year drought will finally end after a victory Monday night at Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum.
The Raiders swept Towson, 26-24, 25-19, 25-19, to advance to the Class 3A state title game. They will face last year’s state finalist, Damascus, on Saturday night.
“From the start of the season I, to be honest, was a little bit worried because we lost a couple of really key players from last year,” Atholton hitter Sam Miller said, “but I think we really came out on top and we really proved ourselves. We’ve just done what I couldn’t have ever imagined. I’m just so proud of us. We haven’t been here since 1996. It’s just insane.”
Miller led the way with 11 kills and five aces for Atholton (14-4), while Kelly Simons had one of her best games of the season, finishing with nine kills and four blocks.
“This is fantastic,” said Atholton senior setter Hope Kelly, who had 18 assists and six aces. “We always chanted ‘states’ during my freshman year; we were so bad. It was just a dream and never even achievable or within reach or in sight. But once we made it past Atholton players celebrate beating Towson on Monday to reach the Class 3A state title game. “We’ve just done what I couldn’t have ever imagined,” Atholton hitter Sam Miller said. regional finals, we had the momentum and knew we were going to get there and going to win. I’m so confident in my team.”
In an overall sloppy game on both sides, the Raiders came out strong in the opening set until the nervousness kicked in.
The Generals (18-3), who had won 17 straight after starting the season 1-2, rallied from an early 5-2 deficit and eventually won seven straight points to take a 12-6 lead. The Raiders responded by scoring eight of the next nine points to retake the lead. From there, it was a back-and-forth set that included eight ties, the last at 24 after a kill from Miller. Kelly served an ace and Towson’s hitting error gave Atholton the first set.
Generals coach Emily Berman said losing that first set and failing to capitalize on two set points was enough to cost her team mentally.
“That, to me, sort of started the mental breakdown,” she said. “We have our leaders, who have been our leaders all season, start to fall apart, and we have kids who need that leadership and need some guidance, and they don’t have that. So everyone sort of starts falling apart.
“I think if we had won that first game we at least would have had some better momentum.”
The chaotic play by both teams continued early in the second game, but once again Atholton was able to string together a run to separate itself. An 8-0 run turned a twopoint deficit into an 18-12 lead en route to a 2-0 set advantage.
The Raiders have been overly relaxed this season when carrying 2-0 leads into third sets, but that was not the case Monday night.
They cruised to a 6-1 lead behind three aces by Kelly, and followed with another 6-0 run that featured a kill and three straight aces from Miller to make it 12-2. The Generals fought back, cutting the deficit to four, but couldn’t overcome it and had their season end with a service error.
Towson’s Sara Mandreja had a team-high nine kills and Nicole Race added six.
“I’m proud of the season that we had,” Berman said. “I wish it had ended on a little of a better note; not even necessarily winning, but I wish we had put up a little more of a fight. The girls on this team are much better than they just showed; they’re mentally stronger than they showed, and I think that’s where we really fell apart. We let a few errors become six, seven, eight points, and it was too hard to fight back.”
Moy knows his team faces a much stiffer challenge in Damascus, which beat Northern-Calvert in the other semifinal and fell just short last year, but won a title in 2013. Atholton is looking to win its first state championship since titles in 1988 and 1989.