Boys' volleyball falters but maintains winning streak
APRIL 26, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM—
After winning five straight games against several of the county's toughest teams, the boys' volleyball team entered its game against the Poolesville Falcons with a confident expectation of easy victory. This overconfidence nearly cost Blair the game, however; though the boys' eventually defeated the Falcons 25-13, 26-28, 25-14 and 25-15 for a record of 8-1, Poolesville came far too close to victory for comfort, capitalizing on Blair's complacency to serve the team its first losing set since its March 25 loss to Churchill.
The Blazers began the night on a tepid note, as both teams failed to keep possession of the ball for more than one or two points at a time. Oddly, the Blazers scored the majority of the points for both teams: Blair's strong offense claimed nine kills and seven aces in the first match alone, but it also gave Poolesville seven points – over half of the thirteen points it won in the first set – by missing three serves and four hits. Blair's defense also showed signs of sub-par focus, as a combination of incorrect positioning and delayed reflexes allowed four deep free balls or short tips to drop to the court.
These early signs of unevenness would come back to haunt Blair in the second match, as it struggled and ultimately failed to maintain the lead. Though Poolesville made its share of errors, including four missed serves and two instances of netting, the Blazers' weaknesses were far more apparent throughout the match. Offensively, Blair handed Poolesville nearly half of its points by missing four serves and nine hits; defensively, it suffered consistently from inadequate coverage of tips and deep free balls, shanking a few into the net or out of bounds and allowing eight balls to drop just inside the back line or behind the setter.
"We lost because we couldn't adjust or play scrappy," senior setter and co-captain Tim Yang explained. "We were a slow, unaware team: the ball would be three feet away from us, but it took us so long to react to it." According to Yang, Poolesville's short tips were especially troublesome for the Blazers' defensive wings, who are more accustomed to hard hits down the line. "There were a lot of freak plays like that that we couldn't get because we didn't have court awareness. We weren't reading the hitter, and we weren't reacting."
When the defense players did send clean passes to the setter, however, the Blazers were still able to enjoy the strength of their offensive squad. Juniors James Lee and Paul Wong both scored five kills each in the second match, and Coach JJ Rathnam noted that "[Wong] was hitting his best all year tonight." The Blazers were also able to keep a strong double block on Poolesville's hitters throughout most of the night, though as Yang noted sardonically, "we were out of position and not anticipating where the ball was going, so having a double block didn't help because they just tipped all day."
After losing the second match due to two excruciating defensive errors and an out-of-bounds near-kill, the Blazers were forcibly shocked into focusing their concentration on taking back the next two sets. Blair's defensive players, who had previously left gaping holes in the court due to incorrect positioning, greatly improved their coverage, allowing Poolesville to score fewer easy points and setting up a solid foundation for Blair's attackers. The Blazers' offensive squad cleaned up its playing as well, slamming thirteen kills past the Falcons and shutting down several Poolesville overpasses. Freshman Jay Chang served a particularly strong seven-point streak, and Yang ended the match on a high note with a five-point run that included three consecutive aces.
This momentum continued into the fourth set of the night, as the Blazers killed eight more hits, aced two serves, and played a much more responsive defensive game. By contrast, Poolesville's team seemed to be fraying at the edges, shanking an increasing number of passes and sending a surprising number of serves and hits into the net. Even the scrappy tips and deep passes that had proven so useful in the second match began failing, with two consecutive free balls dropping just outside of Blair's court and not a single one landing in. Though the Blazers still made a few offensive errors, they were able to win the last set in less than half an hour, clinching the victory that had seemed suddenly uncertain only two matches ago.
According to Rathnam, the game underlined the Blazers' need to improve communication and concentration on the court in order to avoid the first-round playoff losses that have plagued them for the last two seasons. "We weren't focused, lacked concentration, and were overconfident," he noted, explaining that "Poolesville played hard, but we should have been a lot better." Despite the team's uneven performance against the Falcons, Rathnam believes that Blair still has the potential to go far in post-season competition. "I think we'll get a good high seed this year," he said, "and we'll be in a better position to win than last year."
The Blazers' next game will be at 7:00 p.m. at Northwest on April 30.
Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to ... More »