Before the season started, Montgomery College volleyball Coach Tori Kenno told her team they could only lose one match all season. Three months and 26 opponents later, Kenno’s Raptors not only rose to their coach’s lighthearted challenge, they did not lose a single match in the regular season.
“Honestly, I said it jokingly, ‘you’re allowed to lose once, that’s it, no more,’” Kenno laughed. “I didn’t realize it would actually happen! I wanted them to realize they should always be shooting for the stars. But I also believed we had the potential to be very good.”
The Raptors are currently riding a Montgomery College-record winning streak having won all 26 of their regular season matches to finish undefeated headed into the postseason. The latest NJCAA Division II poll ranks the Raptors #19 in the nation. They were the only unbeaten team in the Top 20.
While it may have been a lighthearted statement, at least two players knew that it was possible to go unbeaten. They hadn’t lost a volleyball match since October 19, 2016, when they were sophomores at Northwest High School.
Montgomery College freshmen Anna Chepurnova and Talya Huss are a big part of the success the Raptor volleyball team is experiencing. They are both products of the Jags team which has won three-straight Maryland State Championships.
The Raptors started the season with a statement, sweeping the Howard tournament—a first for an MC volleyball team. In fact, they had dropped only three sets this entire season.
“I think I realized immediately after our first tournament this is definitely the best team I’ve ever played for,” said Isabel Nelligan, a freshman outside hitter from Damascus High School. “We don’t really think about our record; we think more about the tougher matches we’ve played and how we work as a team.”
Kenno was not satisfied with her team’s performance last year. In 2017, MC started strong but faded midseason. They lost—in straight sets—the first round of the Division III Regional Tournament. She vowed not to let it happen again, hitting the recruiting trail in the offseason. In her third year as head coach of her alma mater, Kenno focuses on acquiring key competitors from successful local high school programs.
The star-studded recruiting class features Anna Chepurnova, outside hitter from Northwest High School. Russian-born Chepurnova, one of the top junior college freshmen in Division II, ranks fourth in the nation in hitting percentage and has more than 300 kills on the season.
“I think having a bunch of young players from winning programs creates the expectation of winning here at Montgomery College,” said Kenno.
“I knew Anna when she played in high school. She won a state championship,” Kenno said. “Isabel played at Damascus, another volleyball powerhouse. Key (Keyshiana Fennicks) played at a Division II college in Ohio her freshman year, and Talya (Huss, freshman setter) won states at Northwest. I think having a bunch of young players from winning programs creates the expectation of winning here at Montgomery College.”
At six feet, two inches tall, Chepurnova anchors the attack on both sides of the net. She leads the Raptors’ gaudy stat lines. MC has 200 more kills, almost 300 more assists, and more than 300 more digs than any team in the state. Kenno knows these stats are staggering.
In 2010, as a freshman from Magruder High School, Kenno started on one of MC’s best volleyball teams. MC advanced to NJCAA Division III tournament, finishing sixth in the nation. Kenno who earned All-Region honors as a freshman knows what it takes to play for—and coach—winning teams.
MC was the top seed in the Region XX tournament at the College of Southern Maryland last weekend, but came up short in the championship match, falling 3-1 to Northern Virginia Community College on Saturday, Nov. 3.
It turns out the Lady Raptors, kept their end of the bargain made with their coach at the beginning of the year. One loss.
Top: Former Northwest Jag Anna Chepurnova (8) has anchored the Montgomery College Raptor front line to an unbeaten regular Season.
Next: Former Jaguar Talya Huss (1) celebrates a point during the season with the Raptors.
Next: Anna Chepurnova (8) spiking it down.
Photos courtesy Montgomery College. Reposted with permission.