Audrey Owens said she’s trying to be more vocal for Arundel High’s volleyball team. The senior prefers to let her play set the example and it was evident in the Wildcats’ biggest match of the season Tuesday.

In a showdown of defending state champions, as well as the area’s top two squads, No. 1 Arundel outlasted visiting and second-ranked Reservoir in a five-set thriller (25-23, 20-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-10) in Gambrills.

Owens led Arundel (2-0 overall) with 17 kills, and Kiera Harmon had eight kills for the defending Class 4A state champion Wildcats. Kelsey Holmes had 15 kills and eight aces for Reservoir, which claimed the 3A crown in 2021.

“We knew this would be a challenge for us, and they certainly were,” said Arundel coach Ashley Yuscavage. “That was a great team we beat tonight. We didn’t play great but we bared down when we needed to.”

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Arundel coach Ashley Yuscavage (left) gives instructions before the start of Tuesday’s volleyball match with Reservoir. The top-ranked Wildcats grinded out a five-set victory over the No. 2 Gators in a match-up of defending state champions in Anne Arundel County. (Derek Toney)

“This season we’re working with a lot of new players,” said Owens, who’s a co-captain with Emily Liu. “We’re naturally introverted so we tried to talk more and lead by example as much as possible.”

After dropping the fourth set, Arundel regrouped behind Owens, who started the fifth set with back-to-back kills. Tied at 5, the Wildcats won five straight, featuring a pair of kills from junior Payton Swinton and Harmon’s quick kill over the net for a 10-5 advantage.

Reservoir (2-1) pulled to 13-12 after a kill from Mayah Tucker. The Gators followed a service error with Kelsey Holmes’ kill to get to 14-13, but Taylor Johnson’s hit landed on the side, clinching victory for Arundel.

The Wildcats never trailed in the opening set as Owens’ kill presented the hosts with a 10-4 advantage. Reservoir got even at 23 on a kill by Holmes before Harmon’s kill and a Gator hitting error concluded the set.

The Gators trailed 11-3 in the second set, but Holmes surged the Howard County squad into contention. She ran off five straight aces to help Reservoir gain its first lead. The Gators capitalized on several Arundel errors late to close the set.

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The Wildcats regrouped, building a 21-14 lead after back-to-back kills from Owens. She had another kill before Harmon’s ace gave the Anne Arundel powerhouse a 2-1 lead in sets.

The fourth set was tightly contested as Elsie Iheiohanma’s kill put Reservoir up, 22-21. The Gators kept the advantage as Madison Hill’s kill and an Arundel violation clinched the set and allowed the Gators to square to match.

Reservoir led only once (4-3) in the decisive fifth set. Holmes finished with 15 kills and 16 assists, and Tucker and Hill each added seven kills.

Gators coach Carole Ferrante believed neither team played their best Monday.

“They [Arundel] took advantage of a lot of opportunities that we gave them,” said Ferrante. “We didn’t do a good job closing blocks and they took advantage of where we weren’t.”