Glen Burnie's volleyball team has only one returning player from last season and only one year-round player. Those distinctions both belong to junior Adriane Blake.
"When she picks up a ball, you can tell the volleyball belongs in her hands," said Andrew Lazzor, who coached Blake in her freshman and sophomore years at Glen Burnie before leaving to become boys' basketball coach at Chesapeake.
"She was a gifted player coming in," he said. "She had the jump and power as a hitter, the rough skills you look for to mold a player."
In a game against Southern last week, one play said it best. Blake received a set and leaped from the back row, spiking the ball a foot inside Southern's endline for the first point of the second game. Her athletic digs, passing and potent hitting have helped the Gophers enter the week 4-4, with losses to Severna Park, Liberty, South River and Old Mill.
They lost to Old Mill in five games and have a rematch Tuesday at home. Blake, who has played outside hitter, middle hitter and setter over the years, is also looking forward to the Oct. 27 match against Broadneck because she has played club volleyball with some of the Bruins and has also played club ball for Broadneck Coach Romonzo Beans.
"I'm excited; that should be a competitive game," Blake said.
Beans agreed. One thing he enjoys about coaching players from the county during club volleyball season is seeing them in league play, though it can be painful for his team. "The girls I coach tend to want to play better when they play against me," Beans said. "To see those girls do it is always good. It becomes more of a challenge. In her case I know that with the right things in place she can carry a team. . . . She sees the whole court. She doesn't go up there aimlessly and hit the ball. She's placing it there and placing it with authority. I have seniors who can't do that."
Blake has been thrust into a leadership role this season. Her importance to the team showed early in the season when she was limited with an ankle injury.
"When she was out, it was rough not having her on the court," said junior Jenna Rykiel, who grew up playing basketball and softball with Blake. "She's one of those players that builds us up and is the center of the team."
With Blake now healthy and the team's experience growing, Coach John Gritter believes opponents should take notice. The losses to good teams mean "we better not be taken lightly," Gritter said. "We're going to play stronger, harder come tournament time."