River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said that there are no weak links on her undefeated and fourth-ranked volleyball team.
Judging from the methodical manner in which the No. 4 Hawks mowed down previously unbeaten and 13th-ranked Marriotts Ridge on Thursday night in a 25-14, 25-15, 25-19 sweep, the veteran coach’s assessment of her senior-laden squad is spot-on.
Simply put, the Hawks (9-0 overall, 8-0 Howard) took no prisoners in the Howard County tussle while running their season-opening winning streak to nine matches.
The Mustangs (8-1, 7-1 Howard) suffered their first setback after prevailing in their first eight contests.
Because of a scheduling quirk, Marriotts Ridge will have an opportunity to avenge the loss in the final match of the regular season against River Hill.
By that time both teams will be more battle-tested after facing the likes of No. 2 Centennial and third-ranked Reservoir.
On Thursday, though, the Hawks’ consistency at the net, solid defense and accurate serves were too much for the Mustangs to handle.
”We really haven’t played an all-around team like that which can serve and play defense the way they do,” Marriotts Ridge coach Jamie Bullock said. “They didn’t overpower us, but they just made fewer mistakes. And the team that makes fewer mistakes usually wins.”
River Hill coach Lynn Paynter said that her team was prepared for a good outing.
”The girls were really fired up and wanted to show what they could do,” she said. “You could tell by their energy that they were ready.”
The Hawks snapped a 7-7 deadlock in the first set on kills by Paula Elguera and Christina Liu sandwiched around Mackenzie Calhoun’s ace.
After a River Hill return went wide, Calhoun’s kill triggered another 3-0 run before the Mustangs rallied to within, 14-12, on senior outside hitter Leah Liu’s kill.
The rally was short-lived after the Hawks received a kill from Grace Leska and senior Molly Xu prospered at the service line as the lead bloated to 22-12.
Despite her team’s success, Xu said that she was nervous coming into the match.
”But we knew what we had to do,” she said.
Marriotts Ridge started strong in the second set, bolting to a 7-1 advantage on a pair of kills from junior middle hitter Jasmin Kirkland and senior outside hitter Vivian O’Brien, a Leah Liu tip and an ace from senior defensive specialist Rhisen Davis.
The lead eventually disintegrated, however, when the Hawks drew even on a Christina Liu kill followed by another Eleguera smash. River Hill was never broached after finishing the set on a sizzling 11-1 run.
”When we were down, we just started to get our serves in and played better defense,” Xu said.
The third set trended in the same manner with River Hill pulling ahead, 21-11, before the Mustangs rallied to within 24-19.
That’s when Leska ended the suspense with a match-ending and team-best 16th kill.
Calhoun not only provided 10 kills, she had the offense running smoothly with 29 assists while teammate Maddie Antevil shored up the defense with 11 digs. Xu added nine digs and Broke Lauman had eight as the Hawks kept rallies alive and forced the Mustangs into too many miscues.
”When we were down in the second set,” Paynter said, “I just told them to take a deep breath.”
The coach said that she wants her players to focus on the task at hand, rather than being distracted by anything other than winning the match they are involved in at the time.
”Our theme this year is ‘Now,’ and the kids are buying in,” she said.
Bullock said that in addition to Leah Liu’s early success at the net, her back-row defense was sensational.
”It’s the best defense I’ve ever seen her play,” Bullock added.
And no player on the court had a stronger swing than Davis.”
She’s a very special player,” the coach said. “You don’t get players like her very often.”