BETHESDA — Corey Criss slammed an emphatic kill over the net and wagged his finger as the rest of the Walter Johnson Wildcats varsity boys volleyball team gathered around him to congratulate him. Criss’s point was one of many that led the undefeated, defending county champion Wildcats to a 25-10, 25-20, 25-21 victory Monday over the visiting Magruder Colonels (7-4) on Senior Night.
The Wildcats (11-0) established their dominance from the very first set as senior captain Andrew Harper launched several ace serves that the Colonels scrambled to try to return. In fact, Harper started all three sets and helped give WJ the advantage in all but the last set.
“Harper is a great senior leader that keeps things together,” said Walter Johnson head coach Brian Fairall. “He’s a great captain and we rally behind him.”
In addition to established players like Harper and Criss, there are a few younger players on the Wildcats’ squad that are playing with a chip on their shoulder, especially now that the regular season is over.
“We lost a lot of key seniors last year so it’s not the same group coming back,” said Fairall. “We have a lot of younger kids coming into the program that have something to prove, that they can step into those shoes.”
Sophomore outside hitter Francesco Sani made his presence felt in the second set as he hovered next to the net, ready to kill the ball. Sani, who was also on the team as a freshman, extended his long frame and spiked the ball just over the net, out of Magruder’s reach.
However, the Colonels upped their intensity in the third set and registered their first lead of the evening. The two teams traded kills and the final set featured no less than six ties. The Magruder bench shouted encouragement and then cheered gleefully as junior outside hitter Micah Lawal earned another tie-breaking kill to push the Colonels ahead.
It appeared as though Magruder had a chance to take the third set as they trailed 21-20. Then, Harper resumed his serving duties and four kills later, the Wildcats had clinched their 11th straight win.
Meanwhile, the Colonels are in a five-way tie for eighth place heading into the playoffs. Their eventual placement will be decided by a coin toss. According to Magruder head coach Tara Vaglica, the game plan remains the same no matter who her team is slated to face in the postseason.
“We’re just going to continue to play our game. We do have a strong offense so we have to make sure we can run it with a solid defense,” said Vaglica.