Youthful Trojans net victory in opener, 3-1

WORTON — If a timeout was Mardela’s strategy to disrupt the rhythm of Hallie Beattie, whose overhand missile-like serves had wiped out a late deficit and put Kent County on the brink of victory Tuesday, it failed miserably.

On the restart, with host KCHS holding a 23-20 lead, Beattie dished out back-to-back aces to win the set and the match, three sets to one.

Kent County scored seven points in a row to close out the decisive fourth set, which was closely contested throughout.

Beattie, whose arsenal included consistently deep serves that barely cleared the net, asserted herself down the stretch with ace after ace after ace to restore the Trojans’ lead for good at 21-20.

Senior hitter Jaeda Hoxter found a hole on the right side of Mardela’s court to extend the spread to 23-20, and force the visiting team to call a timeout.

Nothing changed when play resumed as Beattie served out the match.

Set scores were 27-25, 22-25, 25-9 and 25-20.

This was the season opener for both sides, and it literally was the only game in town. Kent County Public Schools — as well as other districts in Maryland — had called off all outdoor athletic activities due to the extreme heat.

Michelle Phillips, the veteran coach at alma mater Kent County, said she was pleased with the first-match effort from her young charges.

There are only two returning seniors from last year’s two-win squad.

“We have a lot of young people,” Phillips said matter-of-factly. “I’m looking forward to this group coming together.”

Phillips noted that many of Kent County’s points came courtesy of Mardela errors.

“We have to learn to make transitions … the ball didn’t come back to us very often today,” she said in an interview immediately after the match.

Transitioning quickly from offense to defense, or defense to offense, is important because the quicker the transition, the better the chance of winning the rally.

Action was back-and-forth in the first, third and fourth sets, which were the sets that the Trojans ultimately won.

In the first set, after 14 ties, KCHS took the lead for good, 26-25, when Mardela returned Angel Cote’s underhand offering wide left. Cote then served up an ace for set point.

Kent took its largest lead at 12-7 after scoring seven points on Beattie’s serve.

Mardela served for the set at 25-24, but was unable to close it out.

Mardela scored four points in succession to win the second set, after trailing 22-21. Set point came on an ace.

Whatever motivational words Phillips had for her players during the changeover for the third set, the message was received.

Isabelle “Izzy” Anderson finished off a long rally to break a 1-1 tie, starting a run of five unanswered points, and the Trojans led the rest of the way.

They led by as many as 16 points three times — 22-6 on a Love Jackson tip at the net, 24-8 on a Hoxter ace and the 25-9 final on a Mardela attack error.

It seemed as if the Trojans spent the better part of the fourth set playing from behind after their guests jumped out in front, 3-0.

Aaliyah Dawson’s block at the net pulled Kent to within 20-19, returned the serve to Kent, and started the decisive run of seven straight points — all on Beattie’s serve — to salt away the win.

Kent County graduated only one player from last year’s 2-13 campaign, team MVP Caitlyn Price.

Returnees are seniors Emma Morris (middle hitter) and Jaeda Hoxter (hitter); juniors Izzy Anderson (setter), Angel Cote (libero), Olivia Johnson (hitter), Maddie Meikle (setter) and Kayleen Walters (defensive specialist); and sophomores Hallie Beattie (hitter), Aaliyah Dawson (hitter) and Love Jackson (middle hitter).

Hoxter, Beattie and Meikle will play all around the rotation.

First-year players include freshmen Chloe Bowman, Ariyona Green, Aria Jones, Saniyah Jones, Aaryona Wesley and Saraia Wilmore.

Other newcomers are senior Bre’Asia Jackson, junior Nikayah Jackson and sophomore Asia Wilson.

Right now Kent is playing a varsity-only schedule. Phillips said she needs a couple more players to be able to field a junior varsity team too. On Wednesday, junior Zoe Angenieux, an exchange student from Germany, joined the team.

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