Raiders cruise to third straight re­gion ti­tle

Atholton sweeps North­east for 17th straight win to ad­vance to state semi­fi­nals

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Brent Kennedy bkennedy@balt­sun.com twit­ter@BKBSunS­ports

Atholton vol­ley­ball coach Larry Schofield hasn’t had to worry much about com­pla­cency when it comes to his un­de­feated Raiders this fall.

Af­ter all, it was just last sea­son that the pro­gram’s bid for a sec­ond straight state cham­pi­onship was thwarted in the state semi­fi­nals by North­ern-Calvert.

So this year, even as No. 1 Atholton (17-0) has rat­tled off 12 con­sec­u­tive straight set vic­to­ries — in­clud­ing a sweep of North­east on Fri­day night to cap­ture the Raiders’ third straight 3A East re­gion cham­pi­onship — the team has re­mained as fo­cused as ever.

“If you no­tice, on the back of their warm up jer­seys, they have the Chi­nese sym­bol for pur­suit. We aren’t de­fend­ing any­thing this sea­son, we are pur­su­ing that which got away from us last sea­son,” Schofield said. “They set that as a goal from the very be­gin­ning, get­ting back there to Richie Coli­seum. And we’ve talked a lot about the triple crown … county, re­gion and states … and now we’ve got one more [crown] to go.”

The Raiders ad­vance to face West­min­ster in the 3A state semi­fi­nals on Nov. 14.

Against North­east, which came in look- Atholton's Jes­sica Humphries, cen­ter, cheers af­ter scor­ing a point dur­ing the 3A East re­gional cham­pi­onship match against North­east. ing for its first re­gion ti­tle since 1989, Atholton had the look of a team that meant all busi­ness from the very be­gin­ning.

On the strength of dom­i­nant serv­ing from Han­nah Dun­can and Ryan Rorls, the Raiders raced out to an 18-1 lead in the open­ing set and never looked back en route to tak­ing that first game 25-3.

Dun­can says play­ing at home in front of a rowdy stu­dent sec­tion, com­bined with fall­ing short last sea­son, was more than enough mo­ti­va­tion to come out fir­ing.

“I think the first points are so im­por­tant of a game … be­cause the crowd gets so ex­cited and gets so into it. We are all re­ally able to fol­low that,” Dun­can said. “When we see our­selves be­ing suc­cess­ful point af­ter point af­ter point, we un­der­stand what we are ca­pa­ble of and can use that as an ex­am­ple for the rest of the game.”

North­east showed some life early in the sec­ond set, trail­ing just 7-6 in the early stages. But the Raiders quickly re­grouped to score nine of the next 10 points and take con­trol.

“Their hit­ters have in­cred­i­ble power and they re­ally play well to­gether … you can tell they’ve worked to­gether for a long time now,” North­east coach Meghan Kulzer said. “Their en­ergy was just in­cred­i­bly high from start to fin­ish and we never were re­ally able to build any sig­nif­i­cant mo­men­tum.”

Atholton ended up win­ning that sec­ond game 25-10 and then turned back to its strong serv­ing at the on­set of the third.

Dun­can started things at the ser­vice line and then Esme Chu subbed in and kept the ball go­ing, as the Raiders scored 13 straight points to open the third set.

“We told them that we needed to serve them tough and we prac­ticed that yes­ter­day,” Schofield said. “We knew that if we could take them out of sys­tem and not al­low them to set their top cou­ple hit­ters well, we were go­ing to be in very good shape.”

Atholton ended up clos­ing out the sweep with a 25-3 vic­tory in the third game. Shortly af­ter, the team was cel­e­brat­ing on the floor with the re­gion cham­pi­onship plaque.

For as much as this ti­tle means, how­ever, Dun­can is quick to point out that there’s still plenty of work left.

“Hon­estly, our team is hun­gry,” she said. “We know what it’s like to lose and we know what we have to do. We know that we have to grind and work hard for ev­ery sin­gle point just to be bet­ter than we were last year.”

JEN RYNDA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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