Skill will only get one team so far, but if Crofton’s volleyball stays as consistent as it was Thursday night, the Cardinals should go a long, long way.
The Cardinals maintained an iron grip the entire game, crushing every Glen Burnie rally while stringing together their own sprawling runs to sweep 25-11, 25-11, 25-13. It was Crofton’s third sweep in as many matches.
“It just gives us momentum [these sweeps], to go on and on,” said senior Lily Lagaras. “Even if we lose a set to someone, I feel like we’re so balanced that we keep going.”
“We’re so much better passing, so much better defensively — and we’ve got seniors now,” LeGrand said of his sophomore varsity team. “The juniors get a bit nervous in the big games. I don’t think this team is going to be that nervous. They play like seniors.
Two of those seniors, Lagaras and Emily Gustie, went almost perfectly from the service line collecting four and three aces respectively. Lagaras went 25 for 26. The Cardinals (3-0) showed the same consistency against Bowie in the opener against North Point.
For the briefest spark – the first point – Glen Burnie was the dominating team she knows she can be. But the Gophers made mistakes, allowing Crofton to quickly take a commanding lead over their hosts.
As the points went up, the confidence of the Cardinals also increased. So they went on the offensive. Lagaras sent three aces from the service line. Senior Captain Cora Shafer burned a mark on the field on the kill.
“You can just tell they’re a little more savvy, a little less impatient,” LeGrand said. “They were going too fast last year, getting injured.”
Long separated from their promising start, the Gophers huddled in a 10-1 timeout. Glen Burnie backed into the fray, scoring runs here and there, including a block from Nia Williams, as well as a block and an ace from Emauri Ransome.
Crofton had already done too much damage for this set to count.
Gustie took over at the service line and dumped another trio of aces, cementing a steadfast Cardinals lead that turned into a 25-11 first-set victory.
“Last year, I wasn’t sure we were ready to call for services. This year, I feel like we’ve worked on that enough to be ready,” LeGrand said. “So we are, and it pays dividends. The girls get a lot more balls.
The Gophers took a 3-1 advantage in the second set. But just like in the first, when Lagaras returned to duty, the Cardinals went back to what they were: regular and very good.
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Crofton didn’t wait for Glen Burnie’s mistakes; he attacked. Although the Gophers tried not to let their guests run away with the score like they did in the first – trailing just 9-6 at one point – Glen Burnie couldn’t follow up.
The Cardinals had eight straight runs before the Gophers scored a run, triumphing once again at 25-11.
With most seniors, you expect the consistency that comes with maturity, a cool head that clears rallies without changing the game. But Crofton seniors only had a junior year to toughen up at college level.
“We just keep our heads up,” Gustie said, “and we just try to cheer everybody up. We have a good frame of mind.”
After another scorching start from the Cardinals that took them up 12-2 to start the third set, Glen Burnie didn’t back down. Gophers made changes where they could, like Addy Shreve hitting another kill and taking advantage of Crofton’s slips for points.
It’s that kind of energy, even at the end of a sweep, that encourages Gophers coach Jordan Gibson. A loss like this is nothing but information to grow on.
“We just have to work a little harder in practice, find ways to find other options when we’re put in a combo box, like when our middle hitter was put in a box,” Gibson said. “Our hitters were just a little behind tonight. We couldn’t get a hit to save our lives at times. …So, back to the drawing board.