CLAYMONT — The feeling was back inside the Moglia Fieldhouse at Archmere on Sept. 9. A large student section — dressed in their finest Hawaiian shirts — was primed for its first volleyball match since 2019 after being unable to attend in 2020. They were full of energy, ready to cheer their Auks on to victory.
But the Smyrna Eagles were having none of that. Led by the powerful arm of Anna Richardson and an able supporting cast, the visitors took it to Archmere, serving notice to the rest of the state with a 3-1 victory. Set scores were 25-21, 25-20, 19-25, and 25-19.
Smyrna and Archmere opened the season against each other from 2017-19 and were scheduled to do so again last year until the coronavirus forced schools to alter schedules. Thursday night marked the first time the Eagles had taken a set from the Auks in those four matches.
The tone was set right off the bat. Karalyn Osborne delivered an ace on the first serve, part of a match-opening 5-1 run that concluded with a block by Richardson. The Auks hung close, with Colleen McCann, Jessica Lattanzi, Hope Merritt and Cecilia Connolly scoring, but the Auks were hurt by unforced errors and a bevy of Eagles.
After an ace by Mia Schultz put Smyrna on top, 16-11, the Auks called timeout. They responded with the next four points until a Richardson kill brought that short run to its conclusion. But down 20-16, Archmere rallied for five straight, with a Connolly block putting the hosts on top by one. That was the Auks’ final point of the set, however, as Smyrna ran off the next five to close it out.
The Auks opened the second set with a 4-1 lead, the final two of those coming on consecutive aces by Abby Garcia, electrifying the student section. But the Eagles turned a 6-2 deficit into a lead thanks to a run that included a Richardson kill, two Auks error, an ace from Osborne and a block by Elise Carter.
This time, the Eagles would not let Archmere back into the set. The Auks got to within three points on two occasions, the final time at 21-18, but Richardson sent it to set point with another blast, and Carly Timblin ended the second with an ace.
The Auks held off defeat with a hard-fought win in the third set. It was a back-and-forth frame, with Archmere holding on to a slim lead through much of the first part before the Eagles knotted it up at 12 on a tip kill from Gianna Romano. The Auks regained the lead on an unforced error, but Smyrna scored the next four to lead, 16-13.
The set was last tied at 18 after a smash by Carter, but the Auks ran off seven of the final eight points of the set for the win. Connolly got the clincher with a block.
That breathed new life into the Auks and their fans. Archmere took a 6-5 lead when Connolly sent a kill straight down, but Smyrna was not flummoxed. Richardson tied it with a bomb, then went cross court to put her team back on top. Osborne served up another ace, and after an unforced Archmere error, Richardson scored again on a tap. The Auks took a timeout, but Smyrna scored two more after that, including another Osborne ace.
The Auks trailed by as many as 10 before mounting a furious comeback. They got as close as four at 22-18, but — to the surprise of no one — Richardson added a kill, and Osborne sent it to match point with yet another ace. Alanah Weaver saved one match point with an acrobatic shot that bounced off the tape to the floor, but Richardson closed it out with a blast that deflected off the arm of an Archmere player and out of bounds.
Richardson had 17 kills, along with 11 digs. Carter added nine kills, while Osborne had five aces and 25 assists. The Eagles (1-0) have their home opener on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. against Sussex Academy.
Final statistics for Archmere were not available early Friday morning. The Auks will look to even their record when they visit First State Military Academy on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
All photos by Mike Lang.