The Atholton Raiders made their mark in volleyball last year with a young team that stumbled early, grew up quickly, and when it counted most, was strong enough to land in the Class 2A state playoffs.
After losing several starters to graduation and forming one of the moreyouthful teams he's had in his seven years at Atholton, Coach Jon Peterson envisioned the same type of season from the Raiders this year.
At this early stage, the Raiders may have fooled their mentor. With Friday's 15-11, 15-13, 15-9 victory over Howard, Atholton improvedits record to 3-1 overall, 2-1 against the county.
Each of Atholton's victories have been three-game sweeps. The Raiders' only defeat -- a one-sided, three-game decision Wednesday against powerful Centennial -- came as no surprise.
Friday, against the likewise young but winless Lions (0-3), Atholton didn't exactly light up its home court. The Raiders misfired on 16 serves and had some trouble with their service return. They also allowed a huge lead in the third game to evaporate.
Still, Atholton took control midway through the first game to grab an 8-5 lead and never trailed. In the critical second game,the Raiders erased a 6-1 Howard lead, then hung in gamely through four tie scores before running off the last two decisive points.
Andin the third game, Atholton bolted to an 8-2 lead, stretched that advantage to 14-4, then blew five chances to end it while Howard crept back into the contest with a five-point run.
Atholton's Catrin Emilsson finally concluded the match with a spike that the Lions stoppedbut failed to return.
The season is still young, but the Raiders,who have only three returning players, have come a long way.
"When we scrimmaged (Anne Arundel County power) Severna Park -- which I think is the best team in the state -- we looked awful," Peterson said. "I usually don't yell at my team after a poor performance, but thistime I had to. We practiced on Saturday, then came out and looked pretty sharp against Meade."
The Raiders topped Meade (Anne Arundel)in their opener, then won their first county match against Glenelg. Centennial brought Atholton back to earth by allowing the Raiders only 19 points in three games. That did not stop Atholton from delaying Howard coach Rich Asendorf's first celebration since returning to thecoaching ranks after a 10-year layoff.
Asendorf goes after his first victory again Wednesday at Glenelg.
"It's not like we've played that badly," said Asendorf, who lost in four games to Oakland Millsand Mount Hebron, the defending 2A champions, before falling to Atholton.
"We're a little weak on transition. We have two very experienced players (seniors Kara Gontkovic and Jenny Harron) and a senior (Laura Seastrom) who we've asked to become a setter. I'd just like to see us get a win so we can get some confidence."
Atholton's returning starters, seniors Teri Griffin and Julie Ruprecht and 6-foot junior hitter/setter Kelly Smith, did their part Friday. Smith had seven assists, four kills and two aces, while Griffin and Ruprecht also contributed two aces. Kristen Pramik, a returning junior hitter who has moved into a starting role, also had three kills and two aces.
Otherwise, a trio of newcomers -- junior Beth Lowenthal, sophomore RobinMcGraw and freshman Amanda Williams -- made solid impressions.
Lowenthal led the Raiders with nine assists. McGraw led them with six kills. And Williams, the first freshman Peterson has ever carried, added four assists, an ace and two kills.