A little more than two years have passed since Rhamat Alhassan first tried out for the Holy Cross volleyball team. Having never played the sport before, she decided to go to the junior varsity tryout rather than the varsity tryout, which was three hours later.
Coach Dave Geiser watched as Alhassan, a towering sophomore basketball player, ambled into the gym.
“You’re three hours early,” he told her. “And you made the team.”
The journey that followed has been something of a whirlwind for Alhassan, who has gone from novice middle hitter to Florida-bound recruit in two short years.
Last summer, the 6-foot-5 senior was one of 16 players from around the country invited to a third tryout for the U.S. girls’ youth national volleyball team in Anaheim, Calif., where she trained on a court adjacent to the U.S. Olympic team.
This season, Alhassan ranks fifth in the area with 211 kills and has led No. 4 Tartans (20-1) to the best record in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“It’s been fun. It’s been difficult, too,” she said. “In order for me to get to where I am now, I’ve had to practice. Lots. It’s just been a lot of time and dedication.”
Geiser saw those qualities immediately on that first day of tryouts. Even after being told that she had made the varsity team, Alhassan asked if she could stay for the JV tryout to learn some of the sport’s basic skills.
Between the two sessions, she was in the gym for six hours.
“She just picked up the stuff faster than anybody I’ve ever coached in my life,” Geiser said. “Not just her physical movements, but the rules and the strategy and tactics. Everything.”
Still, it has been a learning process. Alhassan spent much of her sophomore year working one-on-one with junior varsity Coach Wes Carver, who made himself available at varsity practices to help develop her game. Then, whenever the team would break into pairs for drills, Alhassan was always partnered with 2012 All-Met Taylor Gallart to get additional tips.
As she continued to work with coaches at Holy Cross and her club team, Metro American, Alhassan became a more consistent hitter and dominant blocker. She fixed her arm swing and is serving this year for the first time in her career at Holy Cross.
“We wouldn’t have dared put her in the back row until this year,” Geiser said. “Now she’s leading the team in serving attempts and [is] second in aces.”
Despite all of this — and her volleyball scholarship to Florida — Alhassan’s first love was basketball. A YouTube video shows her dunking at practice, and Geiser said that she can now reach a full 14 inches above the rim.
Alhassan will be on the Holy Cross basketball team again this winter and said that playing both sports at Florida is a possibility, depending on the circumstances.
“Playing basketball has kept me in really good shape for volleyball. And all the jumping in volleyball has helped my rebounding in basketball,” she said. “I don’t want to play [basketball] my freshman year, but I don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards.”
Then Monday night happened.
Still riding the high of their first win over Yorktown since 2009, the Generals shocked then-No. 2 Madison in five sets Monday night, 25-22, 10-25, 14-25, 27-25, 17-15.
The Warhawks (21-2) have suddenly lost two matches in a row, while Washington-Lee (16-5) has quietly won nine straight.
“It ended up being one of those matches where you can have a game plan and you can talk about technique, but I don’t think we had a single timeout where we talked about anything like that,” Delaney said. “It was all about passion and a will to win. It was that kind of match.”
Washington-Lee’s comeback after lopsided scores in the second and third set made the win that much sweeter. Before the fourth set, Delaney pulled his team out into the hallway to calm their nerves. He told them to forget about the set scores and remember that they were only down, 2-1.
“That’s the beauty of volleyball: you can lose 25-0, but it’s still one set, so you can let it go,” Delaney said. “I think the girls did a great job of just refocusing.”
That same focus carried over to a strong practice Tuesday night, as the Generals prepared for their match Wednesday night against No. 5 Langley, the only other team to beat Madison this season. After a nerve-wracking win, Delaney braced himself for another close match.
“I think it’s going to be another nail-biter,” Delaney said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any nails left.”
No. 2 Flint Hill played without Coach Carrol Anderson in Tuesday’s straight set win against Robinson. It was the first match Anderson, who was still dealing with the after effects of a concussion, has missed during her 10-year coaching career.
During an Oct. 16 practice session, Anderson was struck by a volleyball while talking to her junior varsity coaches.
Anderson said she was hurt at the time but was on the sideline for wins against Battlefield Thursday and Stone Ridge Saturday. Sunday, with her head still in pain, she went to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with the concussion.
Anderson is likely out the rest of the week but expects to be on the sideline when Flint Hill hosts the ISL semifinal next week.
“It’s been hard for me to do, I’m not supposed to be using my phone or my computer,” Anderson said Tuesday in a phone interview. “There isn’t supposed to be any stimulation.”
The Huskies traveled to face Episcopal in an ISL AA matchup Wednesday where longtime assistant coach Andy Krug will continue to fill in for Anderson. Flint Hill’s regular season final is Friday against Oakton.
Madison and Sherwood both slipped out of the top three after five-set losses last week. Madison lost to then-No.7 Langley and Washington-Lee, while Sherwood fell to Damascus. . . . Stone Bridge has rattled off six straight wins since Oct. 1, including four victories over teams with three or fewer losses. . . . Howard will host Glenelg on Thursday for the regular-season championship in Howard County. . . . Broadneck makes its debut on the bubble after an exciting come-from-behind win over then-No. 10 Arundel.
1. Loudoun County (20-0) LW: 1
2. Flint Hill (22-3) LW: 4
3. Stone Bridge (17-2) LW: 5
4. Holy Cross (20-1) LW: 6
5. Langley (17-2) LW: 7
6. Paul VI (21-3) LW: 8
7. Sherwood (17-2) LW: 3
8. Howard (12-1) LW: 9
9. Madison (21-2) LW: 2
10. Glenelg (11-1) LW: NR
Dropped out: No. 10 Arundel (13-2)
Bubble: Poolesville (11-0), Broadneck (12-2), Forest Park (17-2)