Boys Volleyball defeats Sherwood in straight sets for MCPS Championship

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Andy Kostka

The Richard Montgomery boys varsity volleyball team may have defeated Sherwood in straight sets to win the 25th annual MCPS County Championship, but it was not nearly as straight forward as the 3-0 score line reflects. The Rockets cap off a remarkable season, one where the team only lost one set – to Wootton in April.

For RM seniors, it was sweet revenge to finish their high school careers where they began. In the same gym, Magruder High School, the 2013 Rockets lost in straight sets in the County Championship to Wootton. “Even though it’s a different team I feel it’s redemption,” Coach Barber-Strunk said. “And it’s also true to the form of how much they’ve grown.”

Top seeded RM (15-0) and second seed Sherwood (13-2) kept neck and neck to begin the first set, but the Rockets wore the Warriors down to win the set 25-16.

In the second set, in front of the full Sherwood stand, the Rockets faced much tighter opposition. Sherwood jumped out to a 4-1 lead before RM would start the climb back into control. 16 ties during the set, and six lead changes kept the full house on their toes.

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

With RM leading 24-23, A Sherwood spike appeared ready to tie the game back up – before junior Eric Tao dove down to dig it out. The save led to an RM spike, one which found the hardwood floor, and won the second set for the Rockets.

“My team puts me there just so I can make those types of plays every now and then,” Tao said. “So I feel like, me playing that kind of tells my team that, ‘Oh, we actually have a sixth player on the court.’”

The sixth player, or right back, does not see as much playtime as the other positions on the court. It’s moments like Tao’s dive which remind a volleyball team why there are six players on the court at a time.

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

“I think we were having trouble adjusting to some of the background noise coming from that side, and we were doing less communicating and putting more work on our own side,” Barber-Strunk said. “It wasn’t like they were playing poorly, they just weren’t in that go-to mode, and I think they just needed to regroup and I’m glad they came back.”

Sherwood are no slouches, having only lost one game prior to the Championship. The Warriors lost 3-2 to Wootton in April – the same team RM lost their lone set against.

Sherwood played the Rockets close to start the third set, but after the score was tied at 9, RM did not leave room for error. A six-point run for the Rockets distanced the two teams, and RM secured their first County Championship since 2009 with a 25-14 third set victory.

“We didn’t play Sherwood during the season so it was kind of a new experience playing them. First two sets we had to learn how they played, but the third set we kind of read how they blocked and how they set up,” Oliver Hu said. “It was easier to target weak areas, so that is what set us apart in the third set.”

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

Despite seniors Hu and Jeffrey Chang not starting in their freshman County Championship run, the two reflect on this season as closure. “Last time we were here, we lost in straight sets, so that was pretty embarrassing,” Chang said. “So, we had to come back for all of our old teammates, a bunch of them showed up today so we won for them too.”

Barber-Strunk became the boys coach in 2013, making this her first County Championship, and first crop of four-year senior players graduating. “I’m really going to miss this senior class. This team has been a lot of fun. The dynamic, on and off the court – it’s fun, it’s open, it’s always light-hearted, but they know when to buckle down and make it happen,” Barber-Strunk said.

Photo by Tide photographer Kevin Pan

“They bring something to this team that is a big spot to fill. Those are some shoes that somebody – or multiple somebodies – are going to have to step in, and I don’t think you can ever fully replace what you have, you just make adjustments and go on.”