Maxine Friedman had never played outside hitter prior to this fall, but she did grow up playing beach volleyball in California.
And in the sand, where it’s two on two, “everyone plays everything,” she said.
Given that, the O’Connell senior didn’t expect a rocky transition when she moved away from her natural position — setter — to the outside. But what’s happened through five matches this fall, she didn’t expect either.
The No. 5 Knights (5-0) are off to a perfect start with a new-look lineup featuring Friedman and senior Sarah Lawler at outside hitter, sophomore Kelley Moriarty at setter, and talent across the court.
O’Connell defeated Holy Cross in it season opener and swept Good Counsel on Friday after losing to both Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rivals a combined five times last season, without winning a set.
“We’re just playing really well together,” said Friedman, who moved to Virginia in middle school and still spends summers on the West Coast. “Everything is just crisp right now, and clean.”
Friedman has settled into her new role alongside Lawler on the attack. The duo has combined for 156 kills, while seniors Alexia McCants (14 blocks), Lucie Drahozal (26 digs) and Katie Boehm (26 digs) have anchored the defense.
While there was a learning curve with Moriarty replacing Friedman at setter, it hasn’t been steep. The new setter delivered 36 assists in the four-set win against Holy Cross and has 145 on the season.
In pursuit of their first WCAC title since 1995, the Knights have asserted themselves as a contender through the first month of play. While the schedule could get tougher as opponents make adjustments, Lawler said the team is bracing for a strong regular season finish and an extended playoff run.
“There’s so much ahead of us this season. We don’t know what can happen,” Lawler said. “We’re a really good team that can go far, but we have to keep on working with each other and keep pushing.”
The number of days since Northern’s last loss. The Patriots (2-0) have won 30 consecutive matches and haven’t dropped a set this fall.
Ezekewerre has 22 solo blocks over three games in the past week, and 25 overall, which is good enough for second in the area. She also has 15 kills and nine aces for the Mustangs (0-4), who are still seeking their first win this fall.
For Middleburg Academy sophomore blocker Chelsea Penfield, there’s nothing like a good swing at the net. She can feel it in her legs, she says, when the ball arrives on time from her setter, when she’s around the other team’s block, when the defense has left a gap open for her to smash the ball through.
“I hang in the air and everything stops for two seconds,” she said. “It’s the best feeling.”
In No. 5 Middleburg’s straight-set win Tuesday over Flint Hill (25-23, 25-18, 25-21), Penfield finished with 10 kills, plus seven solo blocks.
Middleburg Coach Maureen DiClementi’s motto for her team is “own the net.” Led by Penfield, the Dragons (3-0) did just that.
Her elastic reach kept Flint Hill hitters honest; the Huskies (1-1) tried to set middles for Hana Lee and Siron Hardy to open the match. By the end of the first set, they couldn’t any longer. Penfield’s block had arrived.
Her swings at the net on offense often overwhelmed the Flint Hill backcourt.
It’s a long way from a season ago, DiClementi said. When she was a freshman, Middleburg didn’t set Penfield. She didn’t have enough control to keep the ball inbounds or away from the block. But she was too athletic to keep out off the court, her coach said, so DiClementi worked her hard in practice.
This season, she’s the Dragon’s top hitting option.
“She told me everything I need to work on, and I did,” Penfield said. “My court IQ is a whole lot higher from getting put in my place.”
DiClementi had that conversation with almost her entire roster last year. Middleburg only has three seniors, one of whom — hitter Meagan McDonald — is out for the year with an ACL tear.
Imagine trying to keep nine 14- and 15-year-olds focussed during practice, especially when for most it’s their first taste of varsity volleyball.
“They’re babies,” DiClementi said. “We are very disciplined. We have to be.”
Northwest extended its winning streak to 23 with wins against Oakdale and Seneca Valley. . . . Langley is on a four-game win streak with wins against Madison and Stone Bridge. . . . Northern went 5-0 to win the Westminster Invitational. . . . After a shaky start, Oakton has won three-straight, including a 3-2 victory against Madison on Monday.
1. Northwest (3-0) LW: 1
2. Briar Woods (7-0) LW: 3
3. Langley (7-1) LW: 5
4. Loudoun County (4-1) LW: 6
5. O’Connell (5-0) LW: 10
6. Northern (9-0) LW: 9
7. Middleburg Academy (12-1) LW: NR
8. Oakton (7-2) LW: NR
9. Madison (10-4) LW: 2
10. Stone Bridge (4-2) LW: 4
Records through Tuesday.