It's 4:30 p.m. at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Kirsten Fast walks outside the main building with the rest of the Raiders' girls volleyball team looking for the bus to take them to their practice site. The gym at Roosevelt is being renovated and is unavailable for practices or games.
If they are lucky, the bus has already arrived. Most days, however, they sit and wait until the bus arrives to taxi them to Greenbelt Middle School, where they practice on non-regulation nets in a dimly-lit gym. After practice ends, the team rides a bus back to Roosevelt, where they are picked up and go home.
“It was so difficult,” Fast said. “But we pushed through and showed everyone we don't need a gym to do well.”
Even with the adversity, Roosevelt is 16-0 and is playing in the 4A state semifinals against Arundel on Thursday at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum.
Roosevelt's gym, which had its floor replaced, was supposed to be completed by mid-August. However, the project kept getting pushed back and carried over into volleyball season.
The team practiced at various sites, including High Point and Parkdale, before settling on the nearby middle school, where they used nets from the school's physical education classes. The players said the nets drooped and were lower than nets used in matches.
“Some days Greenbelt Middle wouldn't even be open,” senior Meya Ngundam said. “Some days we were just locked outside. One time they were about an hour late and we just passed outside on the grass.”
Players said the long days helped the team to become closer. They spent the hour-plus after school together in coach Eileen Lloyd's classroom. The hardest adjustment, though, was playing every game on the road.
“It was disappointing at first because we didn't feel like we had a home and we didn't feel like we had a lot of support,” Fast said. “But we eventually learned how to make each court our home court.”
When the playoffs started, the Raiders were able to get in their home gym and hosted three playoff games, all of which they won.
“It was great being home again,” sophomore Kristen Watson said. “Monday and Friday we had a ton of fans, which was great to have their impact.”
With plenty of capable athletes, the Raiders found ways to keep winning.
Watson and Ngundam have established themselves at outside hitter. Fast spreads the ball to them from the setter spot. Raquell Shortt is also a reliable hitter, Rajawen Ocampo is steady at libero and India Mason plays at middle hitter.
To beat Arundel (18-0), Fast said everyone will have to be clicking and make Ritchie Coliseum feel like their home.
“It's going to take playing smart and doing the right thing,” she said. “I know we can definitely beat them. But we can't be making little mistakes and we can't be getting upset with each other. We have to work together.”