No. 4 Raiders outlast No. 3 Howard in five sets in battle between the County’s top volleyball powers
by Pat O’Malley
Atholton’s junior Lisa Zoch and senior Anna Jezerski of Howard, arguably the top two volleyball players and outside hitters in Howard County, and their respective teammates met Tuesday night at Howard High in what was a matchup of arguably the top two teams in their county. The talent and intensity of their clash didn’t disappoint as the VSN No. 4 ranked and visiting Raiders outlasted the No. 3 Lions, 3-2 in a go-the-distance battle.
The result left the Raiders (6-1 overall) in a three-way tie for first place in Howard County with No. 8 Centennial (5-2) and No. 9 Glenelg (7-0) at 4-0 each while the defending county champion Lions (7-3) fell to 4-1 in league action. Centennial defeated Mount Hebron, 3-1 and Glenelg blanked Hammond 3-0 to create the tri-deadlock atop the standings.
After struggling through the first game due to some recent adversity, the Raiders prevailed by 26-24 only to get smoked by 13 (25-12) and by 11 (25-14) in the next two games as the host Lions took control and advantage of several violations by the Raiders for being out of rotation.
“We had lineup changes that caused us to struggle early on,” said Zoch of what Atholton coach Rob Moy called “our bizarre lineups.”
Zoch, who led her team with 16 kills, added that the Raiders “came together and faced the adversity and stepped it up as a team.”
One of the big changes in the Raider lineup was 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter Kelly Simons who moved to setter for the first time this season and responded very well, especially after the players got used to her. Simons picked it up in the decisive fourth and fifth games as did the Raiders’ “exceptional blocking and confidence,” according to Coach Moy.
Howard lost control in the middle of the fourth game falling behind 17-9 before tying the Raiders at 23 on a well-place kill by Jezerski and two consecutive aces by Madison Paige. Jezerski was awesome in defeat displaying deception with her sheer power and a knack for nifty placement of the ball when the situation called for it. The 6-foot Howard standout had a match high 22 kills with 7 coming in the fourth game leading to three more ties at 24, 25 and 26 with help from 5-foot-9 junior Ava Frederickson.
Atholton would wrap it up 28-26 on a kill by 6-foot-1 Zoch and 5-foot-10 Brooke Mason’s block, while 6-foot-2 sophomore Chanelle Smith and 5-foot-9 freshman Ryan Roris kept the heat on the Lions with their hitting and blocking throughout the game. No more than three points separated the teams through 10-all and 11-all ties, but Zoch and Mason turned it up a notch breaking the 11-tie and going on to the game and match winning total of 15 points required to take the fifth set.
The Raiders terminated play by a 15-12 score.
“We last beat Howard in 2015, my sophomore year and lost to them last year,” said Mason whose team lost to Howard in five sets in 2016. “We really wanted to win this tonight because it is the last time we play them. This was our challenge.”
It is the last time because there is no county championship match – the final regular season records determine Howard County’s champion which the latter shared with Mount Hebron in 2016. And when post-season arrives Atholton will attempt to defend its Class 3A State Championship and the 3A is where all Howard County teams will compete with the exception of Howard, the county’s lone 4A team.
“Both teams really wanted this tonight,”’ said Jezerski. “We played really hard but they won it.”
Howard came into the Atholton contest with losses only to No. 1 Arundel and No. 2 South River, while Atholton’s only defeat came at Arundel last week.
“We’re still spotty and need to get more consistency,” said Moy. “We have to be peaking when we get to the playoffs. Hopefully we will be.”