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April 19, 2007

Volleyball's genius play downs Einstein

by Andrew Kung, Online Sports Editor and Copy Editor
APR. 13, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM-

Friday the Thirteenth was anything but unlucky for Blair volleyball (4-1), as the coed Blazers soundly defeated the Einstein Titans in three games, 25-12, 25-10 and 25-19. After exceeding last year's win total two days before, Blair coed volleyball continued their sizzling play, picking up their third win in a row and improving their record to 4-1 despite missing four key players. Although Friday night's game saw unforced errors and some communication lapses by the home team, the addition of junior Julie Zhu, captain of the girls' volleyball team, sparked a fairly easy victory.

According to coach Greg Franklin, Zhu, who sat out the season's first four games due to conflicts with other activities, was vital to Friday's effort, and will be a tremendous asset to the squad for the remainder of the season. He hopes that she will provide the team with consistent serving and setting, especially as a complement to junior co-captain Julie Brice, who has often served as the team's only setter this season. "It's great to have Julie Zhu back," said Franklin.

Blair came out firing early in the first game, grabbing a quick four-point lead and running with it. The Titans got back into the game though, capitalizing off a missed serve by senior co-captain Tim Lee and making a strong play at the net to bring the score to 8-7, Blair. Soon, Einstein was able to take a 10-9 lead on an ace that landed just inside the line. Faced with their first deficit in many games, the Blazers stepped up their play. With Brice serving, the Blazers regained the lead and did not look back, scoring off strong serves and capitalizing on Einstein mistakes. The newly-added Zhu saw her first game action with the score at 17-12, and proceeded the dominate the remainder of the game. Zhu's serve, described by Franklin as "wicked," was more than the Titans could handle, leading the way to a 25-12 victory for Blair.

During game two, Zhu's serve reared its head once more, as Blair scored the game's first seven points. Einstein was unable to make consistently returns, forcing a sideout only when Zhu sent a serve out of bounds. The early eruption set the tone for the entire game, as the Titans never came closer than six points the rest of the way. Communication lapses cost Blair some easy points though, as the rapidly expanding margin led to some dilapidated plays. According to Franklin, the team "stopped talking" and "fell asleep," leading to miscues, including a tangle-up involving seniors Cal Burton and Wendolyn Quintanilla that resulted in a easily playable ball hitting the floor for an Einstein point. Consistent serving became another issue, as both Quintanilla and Lee sent serves into the net, automatic points for the Titans. Still, Einstein was unable to consistently capitalize on these lapses, falling 25-10 to the Blazers.

The match was already all but decided by the start of the third game, so Franklin went down his bench, sitting some of his starters in favor of younger players. Although it was the closest in score, Franklin said the third game was when the team finally "woke up" and played strong team volleyball. The early portions of the game saw somewhat lethargic play from the Blazers, as Blair and Einstein went toe-to-toe, with many ties and even a one-point Titan lead at one point. Blair's awakening came with the score tied 8-8. Senior Neil Mendhiratta brought out his jump serve, igniting a Blair run that grabbed the lead for good. A well placed serve from junior Olivia Bozik extended the lead to double digits. Needing just three points to seal the game with the score at 22-13, the Blazers once again relaxed, trying to get the entire team involved while allowing a mini-rally by Einstein. But the Titans' efforts were futile, as Blair eventually closed out the game at 25-19, another three-game victory in the books.

Much like the team's previous contest against Northwood, the entire squad saw extensive minutes, due to the missing players as well as the skill disparity between Blair and Einstein. Freshman Vikas Mendhiratta played his best game of the season, according to Lee, netting numerous kills and serving with consistency.

Franklin was satisfied with the win, but saw room for improvement. Although the Blazers were admittedly short-handed, their communication and intensity was somewhat lackadaisical at times, making the game closer than it probably should have been. The skill disparity was larger than the score indicated, but Franklin also gave credit to the Titans. "Einstein played with a whole lot of energy," he said.

This year has not been easy for Einstein volleyball. The Titans do not have a boys' team this season, as there was insufficient interest from the school to field one, according to assistant coach James Chan. Still, Chan was very optimistic about his fairly inexperienced squad. He called their learning curve the best he has ever seen, with the team having shown tremendous improvement thus far. "We've got enormous potential," he said. "Wait till you see us come playoff time."

Chan spoke highly of the victorious Blair squad, and looks forward to a potential rematch come playoff time. "[Blair players] work so well together," he said. "You cannot watch just one player. Some teams have one or two good players. Blair has a team."

After winning away games this week against Seneca Valley and Clarksburg, the team will return home next week to play B-CC on Monday and Damascus on Wednesday. The team's true tests will come in the upcoming weeks, when Blair takes on local powerhouses Damascus (Apr. 25), Rockville (Apr. 30) and Sherwood (May 4) in the season's final few games.

As Franklin looks to the future, he hopes to employ more trickery and complexities in the Blazers' gameplan. "We're going to try to tweak the offense," he said. "We're gearing up for the playoff run."

Coed volleyball's next home game is Apr. 23 against B-CC.



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