LANHAM — Perhaps losing an early-season match to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School was one of the best things that could have happened for the DuVal High School volleyball team this year. Since that Sept. 12 loss, the Tigers have dominated virtually every opponent they have faced.
DuVal utilized a balanced attack from junior outside hitters Ellycia Smalley and Jazlynn Joiner to survive an incredibly tough and resilient visiting Northwestern team in four sets, 19-25, 25-12, 25-13 and 25-23, on Oct. 3.
Smalley, a 5-foot-6 outside hitter, had four kills, two digs and three aces, while Joiner contributed with three kills, three aces and two digs to help DuVal seal its seventh consecutive win.
After experiencing losing seasons for the better part of the last decade, the Tigers are off to a blazing 8-1 start this year.
“We took a few lumps last year, and this year is just our time,” said fourth-year Head Coach Ashley Horn.
When asked what it will take to continue the win streak, Horn responded, “I think communication and trusting in our teammates – just talking, and continuing to stay hungry. When you start winning, it’s easy to become lackadaisical. So we want to keep the pressure on our opponents and we want to do it as a team.”
Accordingly, Joiner highlighted DuVal’s lack of complacency for this season’s success.
“We didn’t get comfortable with this winning streak. You know we’ve been on the opposite side of this,” Joiner said. “We trained even harder every practice. We played harder every game. We didn’t get comfortable with the lead, we didn’t get comfortable with the win, we treat every team like they’re the same.”
“Everybody has a role on our team and if everybody’s playing their role then we’re successful,” Horn said. “So our big theme for this year is just talking and trusting your teammate to do their job so you can be successful in your position.”
Early on in the first set, the Tigers found themselves trailing 6-1, forcing Horn to call a timeout. Though a kill by Smalley broke Northwestern’s scoring run, the Wildcats were still able to build a 12-2 lead at one point.
However, an 8-1 run by the Tigers closed their deficit to 13-10, and then to 17-16 after opposite hitter Isabel Carino scored on four straight serves. But the Wildcats found ways to capitalize on small errors by DuVal and hit two straight aces en route to winning the first set.
After dropping the first 25-19, DuVal locked in, minimized some of their mistakes, executed their offense and won three straight sets to clinch the home win. Throughout the second set, Horn encouraged her girls to communicate with one another and trust. The Tigers took heed to her instruction as they sailed to a 13-point victory, thanks to an 8-0 run ignited by three straight aces by Joiner.
DuVal registered another strong start in the third set, sprinting out to an 18-6 lead. The Tigers used multiple ball handling errors and attack errors by Northwestern to their advantage down the stretch. Also, a vital save by Joiner concluded the set, 25-13. At that point, the Tigers had only one more set to secure the win, but Northwestern would not relent.
The fourth set was back-and-forth to begin, as both teams traded scoring runs. Eventually, the Tigers put together an 8-0 run to take a 23-15 lead, but the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 run to tie it at 23-23.
With cheers thundering and suspense building, service reception errors by the Wildcats ultimately cost them the match, sealing the win for DuVal.
“I think that our energy at first when we started was a little slow. We had to get into the rhythm of the game,” Smalley said. “But eventually we understood that we shouldn’t be playing to the opponent’s game. We need to play our game, which is at an elite level and we need to be playing the way that we were taught, the way that we know we can play and staying on our top level of play.”
Likewise, Joiner played a pivotal role in the comeback win and shared similar sentiments with Smalley. She said she recently sent an inspirational podcast to her teammates with endeavors to boost team morale.
“There was a lot of ups and downs for this game, and I really think that we overcame in that last set. It was close but we got through,” Joiner said. “Those last three sets we just put our heads together and said let’s do this, we got this, so like I said it was the mental aspect of it all.”
The Wildcats put up a hard-fought effort, led by two kills, a block and a dig from outside hitter Emperess Johnson.
“I feel like we played really good. We just waited until the end to fight, but it was a good battle, DuVal is a good team to come against and hopefully, we see them again in the playoffs,” said Johnson, a 5-foot-10 senior.
Middle blocker Corinne Couch recorded a game-high four blocks along with an ace and two assists for the Wildcats. Carino provided a spark for the DuVal offense down the stretch, collecting a game-high six aces and setter Wendy Hernandez added six assists for the Tigers.
DuVal hopes to continue its win streak when it travels to Potomac on Oct. 8, with the first serve set to begin at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re not going to get comfortable. We’re going to train even harder every practice… We’re going to treat every game like it’s our last game,” Joiner said. “So we just have to play to the end. I would say that’s gonna be the biggest thing to getting us to regionals and eventually states.”