Leesburg, Va. — Trailing the first set of the season by double-digit points, it looked like it would be a long night for the Riverside High School volleyball team. But the Rams responded.
Point after point, Riverside started to erase Tuscarora’s 21-10 lead. A soft touch by senior outside hitter Kendall McDaniel closed the gap to 23-14 before senior libero Nikki Cathell rallied off three straight service points to shrink the Huskies’ lead to 23-17.
Then, trailing 24-17, senior middle blocker Zoe Thomas crushed a kill at the sideline then had a block-kill at the net to close the gap to 24-19. The Rams scored once more before the Huskies took a timeout, regrouped, and finally closed the first set 25-20.
While Riverside dropped the first set, they used the momentum they found late in the set to win the second, then the third, then eventually the fourth, defeating Tuscarora—20-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-20—to open their season in front of a home crowd in Leesburg on August 23.
“It’s a good start,” Riverside head coach Aga Radfar said. “The second half of the match looked a little more like what it should look like. The first set, it felt like we were stressed with the start of a new season.”
The back-and-forth second set finally ended in favor of Riverside, setting up a 1-1 tie heading into the third set. And at that point, the Rams had finally settled in. Led by McDaniel and Thomas, the Rams dominated the third set, seemingly knocking the wind out of the Huskies’ sails.
Just a few months removed from a bizarre spring 2021 season—which featured player mask mandates and conflicts with the club volleyball season—the Rams returned key players, including McDaniel, for their fall 2021 season.
“We have some players that I coached during their first varsity seasons, then they didn’t come out last year, then they’re back again this year,” Radfar said. “We’re just happy to be playing in a more normal season.”
McDaniel certainly played a pivotal role in Riverside’s comeback win and will need to continue to do so if the Rams hope to see similar success to what they saw in the spring, finishing 12-2, falling in a region semifinal to eventual VHSL 5A State runner up Freedom. With the Eagles reclassifying to Class 6 this fall, Riverside’s road to success lost one bump, but the Rams will need to continue to come together as a team, if they plan to repeat as Potomac District champions this fall.
“Our girls have been playing for so long, so whenever they step on the court, I just tell them to enjoy it,” Radfar said. “This is the sport they love to play, so enjoy it, do your job, have fun, and smile. That always helps to bring up the energy.”