Atholton keeps its cool, makes final by topping N. Caroline in 4 games Experienced Raiders drop first playoff game, but rally to win easily

November 14, 1996|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,SUN STAFF

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Atholton's volleyball team would have panicked after falling behind early in a match.

But not last night.

The Raiders had come too far and waited too long for a shot at a state championship to let a few lousy points spoil their fun.

So, when North Caroline jumped on top of the Raiders early in the first game of last night's Class 2A state semifinals at Essex Community College, the Raiders didn't fret. Instead, they kept their cool and rallied back to win the game and eventually the match, 15-10, 11-15, 15-3, 15-4.

The victory puts the Raiders in Saturday's noon final at Catonsville Community College, where they will face the winner of the other semifinal matchup between North East of Cecil County and North Hagerstown.

"We have an experienced team, and when something goes wrong, they're able to keep their heads and just put it behind them," said Atholton first-year coach Mike Kalinock.

"Tonight was the first time we've lost a game in the playoffs," he continued, "and quite honestly, I didn't know how they would bounce back. But, these kids are experienced, and they know that they are going to get the points back."

The Raiders (15-5), co-ranked at No. 15 with Kenwood, dug a 7-0 hole in Game 2 but managed to knot the score at 11 before North Caroline's Bayside Conference champions closed them out with four straight points.

"I think the turning point for us was the Great Mills game," said the Raiders' Madigan Marth, referring to her team's three-game sweep in the region semifinals.

"We really came together as a team in that match, and ever since then, we've really been pulling together. Even when we're down, we pull back. At the beginning of the season, if we fell back 4-0, like we did in the first game tonight, we would have lost the entire match."

Atholton, which defeated county-rival and defending state champion Glenelg to get to states, didn't let the setback bother them.

Behind the serving and setting of senior Erin Shaw (30 assists), the net play of senior Laura Kuckuda and sophomore Jennifer Thomas (five blocks), and the all-round hustle of senior Jessica Edwards (16 kills, 17 digs) and Marth (11 kills), the Raiders were ++ utterly unstoppable in Game 3. Atholton let the Bulldogs (16-3) pull to within 5-3 before reeling off 10 unanswered points.

The Raiders had to know things were going their way when Kuckuda's serve went off the side of her hand, barely cleared the net and landed safely inside the line, giving the Raiders a 14-3 lead.

"Everyone was executing tonight," said Kuckuda. "Our setting was on, and hitting was on, and our defense and passing were great. We've had confidence all season that we were going to go [to the state finals]. Since the first day of practice, we've wanted it."

Atholton couldn't wait to get Game 4 started.

The Raiders, who stood at the baseline one minute before the start of the period, showed why they were so eager to play as they ran out to a 13-0 lead.

"It feels good to win, but I won't be satisfied until we win the states," said Edwards. "This year is our year. We've always been on teams that were rebuilding, but this year we're all together."

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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