Eldredge provides 14 assists and six kills for the red-hot Wildcats
by Pat O’Malley
About a week ago, Arundel’s juggernaut volleyball team held a team meeting, players and coaches, to clear the air on a few things. Since then, they have been on a roll that resulted in the championship of their own Arundel Wildcats Tournament on Saturday, followed up by a huge 3-0 victory over the reigning No. 1 team in Atholton of Howard County, on Monday.
The Wildcats went 6-0 in pool play of their invitational, then knocked off River Hill in the semis and Severna Park in the final of the showcase. In such tournaments, the teams play two games in each set then two each in the semis and final. VSN’s No. 2 ranked Wildcats scored all 2-0 victories over their competition with the exception of River Hill whom they beat 2-1 and after a slow start on Monday, came back to defeat the top ranked Raiders of Atholton by scores of 29-27, 25-10 and 25-20 in Gambrills.
“We had been starting slow and needed to figure out some kinks in our performance,” said senior Alicia Eldredge, arguably the metro area’s premier setter who is committed to Edinboro. “We figured things out and our chemistry and working together has us on the right track.”
The sweep over Atholton (4-1), the defending Class 3A State champion, was ignited by the “energy” of the 2016 4A State semifinalist Wildcats (6-0) after they fell behind nine points, 12-3, in the first set according to outside hitter Chyna Gubbings.
“We had a long day on Saturday, and started slow today falling nine points back, but our energy picked up and we started talking more to each other,” said Gubbings, who led her team with 15 kills and 7 digs. She, Eldredge (12 assists, 6 kills) and fellow outside hitter Taylor Wigglesworth (8 kills) are the leading trio of six truly veteran seniors.
The trio has been together on varsity since their freshman year and S/OPP Sydney Sheppard (20 assists, 7 kills), and defensive specialists Kate Hofer and Nia Smith, who will play at Coppin State, are 12th graders who have played varsity since their sophomore years.
“I was a little worried in that first game when we started slow, but this is one of the most well-rounded teams I have had here,” said 11th year Arundel coach Ashley Yuscavage, who has led the Wildcats to two state finals and a pair of state semis including last year. “We’ve had some ups and downs this season, but our seniors have provided great leadership and on this team, everyone is in it (meaning no selfish players, all inclusive).”
Everyone was definitely “in it” against Atholton after the Cats overcame that early 9-point deficit as their attack, led by Gubbings, pummeled the Raiders with a barrage of laser-like shots prompting Atholton coach Rob Moy to cite his disappointment in his defense afterwards.
“Our defense was not there tonight,” said Moy, last year’s VSN Volleyball Coach of the Year after leading the Raiders to the 3A State crown. “We need a lot of work.”
The Atholton defense might not have been solely to blame because there is no question that the Arundel offensive is extremely potent and frequently unstoppable when they rev it up as they did in this encounter. Down 12-3, the Cats went on a 6-0 run with freshman middle blocker Brooke Watts scoring two of her 7 kills and one of her 3 blocks in the match.
In game two Arundel raced out to a 14-5 lead that zoomed to 23-10 and finally 25-10 as a Wigglesworth slam put the exclamation point on it to give the home team a commanding 2-0 lead. Atholton did not quit and it was back and forth in game three as the two powers from Anne Arundel and Howard were tied 7 times through the first 8 points for each.
Three more ties would ensue at 15, 17 and 18 for a total of 10 in the set. Junior standout outside hitter Lisa Zoch, who finished with 10 kills, kept the Raiders close down the stretch with her hitting and hustle. The hitting and blocking of Wildcat junior Mackenzie Meehan, who had five kills and three blocks in the middle carried the Wildcats through the final game. A serve by Wigglesworth that glided over the net ended it all.
If you have been reading along, you have noticed a lot of Arundel names throughout verifying the claim of coach Yuscavage that “everyone is in it.”
And they are in it because as Gubbings, the daughter of South River baseball coach Gary Gubbings, said so well Monday night, “We have a lot of talent and we trust in each other.”