Carol Taylor took one look at her prospective Anne Arundel Community College volleyball team this summer and beamed.
Then, she saw the young Pioneers' schedule. The smile disappeared. Hopes for a positive start would follow.
Skilled opponents like Chowan (N.C.) and Charles community colleges and Delaware Tech-Stanton awaited. A rough beginning was inevitable.
Yesterday's tri-match was supposed to provide Anne Arundel with a much-needed reprieve. It's first contest would be against Cecil Community College, a program barely capable of fielding a team last fall.
So what happened? The Seahawks not only pushed host Anne Arundel to five games, they emerged victorious, 10-15, 15-6, 8-15, 15-11, 15-11.
The Pioneers salvaged the afternoon by downing St. Mary's College, 10-15, 15-5, 15-11 in a non-league match, as Andover High grad Danielle Stephenson served the last two points of the decisive game. But the opening loss stung.
"This game is so much like golf," Taylor said, making reference to a sport she also coached at one time. "You can play like absolute garbage, and then you can turn around and play good. Nothing in between. And that's the way we are. We either look like we've never played together before, or we do all these awesome things."
Anne Arundel now is 4-8 overall, 1-2 in the Maryland JuCo League. Cecil is 3-3 (1-1 in league) and St. Mary's 2-8.
After defeating St. Mary's, 15-12, 15-9, Cecil has two more wins than all of last season, when it possessed what Coach Liz Rothwell called "only four volleyball players."
"The rest were field hockey players," she said, laughing.
Cecil only had two reserves on its bench yesterday, but the visitors never wilted.
"We've played in a couple tournaments, and we're in pretty good shape," Rothwell said.
Anne Arundel took two of the first three games, its loss a direct result of poor serving. But Cecil scored the first 10 points of the fourth game and never trailed, though the Pioneers did reduce the margin to 12-11 behind the strong serving of Broadneck graduate Danielle Gerkin.
Gerkin and Susan Nelson (Chesapeake) would record nine kills against Cecil, one less than Jennifer Erlandson (Severna Park). Nelson added seven solo blocks.
Another quick start gave Cecil a 5-0 lead in the final game. The Seahawks led, 12-6, before two Erlandson aces and outstanding net play from Nelson left Anne Arundel trailing by only two points, 12-10.
A Virginia Colenda ace gave Cecil a 13-10 lead, but Nelson's dink returned service to Anne Arundel. The Seahawks would go up, 14-10, when three successive Nelson returns allowed the Pioneers to momentarily stave off defeat.
With Taylor pacing behind her team's bench, Nelson spiked a Cecil return. But Amanda Bates (Severna Park) lost service, and a Peggy Houston ace clinched the win.
"We were sluggish on defense for the most part," Taylor said. "We had flashes where we were real aggressive, but other times we stood around flat-footed and watched the ball hit the floor. I'm disappointed. We've been playing much better volleyball than this."
She need only look back to the opening game, when Anne Arundel overcame an 8-3 deficit to win, 15-10, with Bates serving the clincher.
But the Seahawks dominated the second game and eventually won the marathon.
Freshman Amy Hopkins said, "We just had an all-around bad match."
Apparently against the wrong team.
"Cecil's program is a lot better," Taylor said. "They've improved dramatically over last year."
An unfortunate discovery for a coach patiently waiting for her team to right itself.