The Quince Orchard High School coed volleyball team begins its playoff run this week hoping to build on their 10-1 record and division title and cap what has been a remarkable season with a run to the county championship.
The Cougars ended their season last Friday night with a 3-0 Senior Night victory over Richard Montgomery, and now open the playoffs on Thursday night seeded third against the not-yet-determined 14th seeded team.
“It’s just a fun season,” said Coach Sarah Watson, herself a QO volleyball alumna. “I love being here.”
Watson said the coed squad has been successful the last few years, but this is the first season in recent history that the Cougars have won their division. Last year they went as far as the county semifinals. (There is no state tournament in coed volleyball.)
“We were hoping,” this would be a good season, Watson said, explaining that two of the boys on the team evenly split between boys and girls decided that they wanted to play coed volleyball this year instead of on the boys’ team.
“We were hoping with those additions … that it would give us a little more strength,” Watson said.
Leading the coed Cougars is senior co-captain Brian Ray, a dominant middle hitter who stands a shade under 6-9.
“What makes it great is he’s a volleyball player,” Watson said of Ray, who also plays on a club volleyball team and next year will play at Alvernia University, an NCAA Division III school in Reading, Pennsylvania. “He loves the sport. He’s a great leader as well. He’s helped with some of our boys who have never played before. So not only is he a big hitter, but he’s a great leader, a good guy to have on the team. … He will be missed.”
Watson credited senior setter Jessica Baniak, who plays on the QO girls volleyball team in the fall, for “bring(ing) a lot of consistency to our team, hustle plays.” And she said senior back row players Eddie Zhou, Kayley Andreas and Isabella Pino have also been very consistent.
“Our success is due to our energy on the court,” said Ray, adding that the team’s only loss, against Gaithersburg, was on a night when the team’s energy “was terrible. So for the rest of the season we kept our energy up, and we’ve been winning ever since.”
Fellow co-captain Pino said the team’s communication has also been valuable. “The team always works best when we’re communicating,” said Pino. “We’re making sure that everybody knows where they are at all times, they’re making sure that everybody has each other’s backs. Like every ball is your ball and just go for everything.”
Pino also described the “great team chemistry. A lot of us we have classes together, we play volleyball together. A lot of us have played varsity season together, a lot of us have known each other since middle school. I came here as a transfer, they were really welcoming when I got here.”
“These kids are fun,” concurred their coach. “Some of my boys have never played volleyball before. It’s just a great group of kids. They all get along. It’s fun to come to coach them every day. Practice is never a chore.”
Speaking for his teammates, Ray said, “We would love the community’s support as we go deeper into the playoffs, because that would help our energy everywhere.” If the team wins its first-round game on Thursday, subsequent games will be listed on the Quince Orchard Cougars athletics website.