Atholton ends a 20-year drought

Raiders sweep Tow­son, reach cham­pi­onship game for first time since 1996

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Tim Schwartz

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.

BRIAN KRISTA/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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