When Damascus hit a rough patch early in Monday night’s season-opener against Walter Johnson, Swarmin’ Hornets Coach Becky Ronquillo called a timeout. The team huddled around her, and she looked to her seniors.
The seniors, all seven of them, stared back.
Experience triumphed Monday night in Kensington, as the seniors of Damascus toppled an inexperienced Walter Johnson squad in straight sets, 25-22, 25-16, 25-11. Madi Wyatt notched 10 kills, Alex Nelligan had nine and Annika Schwartz finished with seven kills, two digs and a block.
Wyatt, Schwartz and setter Carly Marella have played together on varsity since they were freshmen. And together, they helped calm down their teammates after a back-and-forth first set and the Swarmin’ Hornets coasted to victory.
“We started off a little rough, had some butterflies,” Ronquillo said. “But as it progressed, they started working and breathing, which is always a good thing. They started getting more comfortable with their play.”
While the seniors led Damascus (1-0), Walter Johnson’s most experienced player sat on the bench in flip-flops. Outside hitter Brigid Morris suffered a concussion in a scrimmage against Magruder and could miss anywhere from a week to a month, according to her father, Wildcats Coach Bill Morris.
The 6-foot senior, who is the only returning starter from last year’s team, was forced to watch helplessly as her younger teammates struggled.
“It was horrible,” she said.
The Wildcats battled in the first set to a 17-17 tie before a return rattled off the rafters. Junior Mary Kate Greening shook her head as the ball landed at her feet. Damascus went on to win eight of the next 13 points and take the set.
“We did have a rough patch in the beginning, but we got back to it and we picked each other up,” Schwartz said. “We have a lot of positive teammates, positive feedback. We’re happy with how we played.”
Damascus lept out to an 11-3 lead in the second set and never looked back. Walter Johnson (0-1) couldn’t handle serves from Wyatt and Nelligan, leading to long stretches of lopsided play.
Ronquillo was worried about her team early but chalked the first set up to butterflies. She was ultimately pleased with how her seniors have stepped up to replace Autumn Jenkins, who graduated after last season. Jenkins left a void, Ronquillo said, both in terms of production and leadership.
“At first it was a little intimidating for them, but now they’re showing what they have to put in,” she said of the seniors. “They are taking on that role. They’re slowly realizing what they have to put in. I love it.”
Wyatt just loved the fact that they escaped their first match with a win.
“It’s really important for morale, for confidence, things like that,” she said. “It was really important to get that confidence, get a win right away.”