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Conde provides remedy for Rams

By Greg Brill -- sports@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Just about any time Stephanie Conde began to raise her right arm, Page County knew it was in trouble.

For Conde, it didn't seem to matter where she tortured the Panthers next: On the back row, the Panthers could not receive the rockets Conde launched on her serve, leading to ace after ace. When Conde was on the attack and got just the right set, a kill usually followed.

Pacing Strasburg with a nice volleyball double-double of 13 kills and 10 aces, Conde lifted the Rams to their first win, a three-set romp (25-9, 25-17, 25-7) Thursday night that took only 53 minutes to complete.

"I could tell [Page's frustration] with the eye-rolls and everything," Conde said. "But they scrapped and they're a good team to play. It definitely was a good win."

This being her senior year, Conde wants to make the most of her third year with the varsity. Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said Conde has put in plenty of hard work to prepare for more responsibility to take some of the load off fellow front row classmate Jenna Smoot.

"[Conde] played very well tonight," Mathias said. "She's been working very hard on that jump serve and it's nice to see it come together. It's nice to have someone come in and be behind Jenna and step up if Jenna has an off night."

The hitting of Conde set the tone for a Strasburg sweep. Page bolted to a 5-2 lead before a kill by Conde forced sideout. From there, the Rams would promptly reel off 11 straight points on the serve of Ally Kauffman to register a first-set blowout. Conde had two kills and a block during the rally, but it was what she did later in the set that led to a ton of frustration for Page.

The Rams were up 11 late in the first set when Conde nailed five straight aces off her jump-serve.

"Oh my gosh, Stephanie's serves were amazing," Strasburg's Lauran Agnew said. "She's definitely got it down. She's got her hits down, too. She mixes it up and no one knows where she's going."

That she has become such a threat early in the season is a testament to Conde's will to become a complete player. An injured right shoulder kept her away from the service line for most of 2008. To prep for her increased role this season, Conde was a travel teammate of Agnew's during the summer and followed tips closely from Mathias once Strasburg opened camp.

"Our serves have got to get in, and that killed us in our [match] on Tuesday night [a four-set loss to Sherando]," Conde said. "When I go back to the line I'm like, 'Gotta get it in, gotta get it in.' I'm all right now, clearly. I've worked on it."

The Rams would get plenty of contributions two days after their loss to Sherando. Strasburg (1-1) was determined not to suffer another defeat before their abundance of supporters, which included a large student section at midcourt. Besides, Page simply could not match Strasburg's size, experience and power.

The Rams got four kills and a match-best 11 assists from Agnew. Senior Jaclyn Ayers had three kills and eight assists, and Smoot had four kills and a pair of blocks. Still, this was Conde's match to shine.

"Lauran and Jaclyn's sets are perfect -- no matter where the pass is -- every time," Conde said. "I always trust them to get the ball where I need it."

The first set took only 15 minutes, largely with Conde's right-on serving and attacks (five kills in the opener). Conde finished off the second set with another ace and sparked a 6-0 run to close the match from the line, getting three more aces to attain her double-double. Conde also had a solo block and assisted on two others.

Mathias was happy the Rams could bounce back well from their loss to the Warriors and play together against a fellow Group A opponent.

"I was frustrated with serving on Tuesday because we probably missed 10 to 15 serves," Mathias said. "I told them, 'You're scoring, whether it's for us or for them, you're scoring. So it has to be for us.' And we didn't attack. I told them [in the post-match meeting]: 'Tonight you attacked, and you can clearly see the difference.'"

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