By Jerry Holsworth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Rappahannock County survived a comeback attempt by Skyline in games 3 and 4 on Thursday to defeat the Hawks 25-18, 25-22, 20-25, 25-19 in girls high school volleyball.
"We lost the momentum in Game 3, but our team chemistry is beginning to come together and we were able to pull out of it," Rappahannock coach Jackie Settle said. "The leaders of our team really came through tonight."
The victory gives the Panthers (2-1), who were expected to have a rebuilding year this season with only one senior, their second win on the road against Group AA competition.
Rappahannock County also defeated Eastern View.
"That makes me very happy to defeat two double-A teams on the road this early in the season," Settle said. "A lot of people thought that this was going to be a rebuilding year for us, but I think our team has really responded to the challenge."
Although the Hawks (1-2) were in every game, and showed flashes of brilliance in each of them, inconsistencies at critical moments cost them the match.
"We're working hard right now," Skyline coach Lesley Detweiler said. "We have our ups and downs. We just have to put ourselves in a position where we have more ups and less downs."
Except for Game 3, each of the games held a pattern. The Panthers jumped ahead early, only to watch the Hawks fight back midway through the game. In each, however, Skyline resurgence came up short.
"You can't dig a hole like that for yourselves," Detweiler said. "I'm pleased with the way we came back in each game, but you can't expect to be consistently successful when you're forced to do that all of the time."
Rappahannock County jumped ahead quickly in Game 1, mounting an 18-7 lead behind the hitting of Lauren Settle and Hanna Kopjanski. Settle dominated the net in all four games, finishing the night with a match-high 15 kills. The junior nailed five kills in Game 1 and Kopjanski added another three.
Skyline, however, refused to give in, mounting a comeback that narrowed Rappahannock's lead to 22-17 after a block by junior Kristina Salazar. Settle finally finished off the Hawks with game-winning kill past Salazar.
Game 2 was much closer, but the Panthers were still able to jump ahead 13-9 and hold the lead despite a much-improved performance by Skyline. Narrowing Rappahannock's lead to just 24-22 late on a kill by Hannah Graham, the Panthers responded with another game-winning kill, this time by Megan Early.
Early in Game 4, it looked as though the momentum had changed permanently and Skyline was going to force a Game 5. Kaitlin Reardon scored on a pair of aces to begin the game, and the Panthers had two misplays that put Skyline up 4-0.
From that point on, it was a close battle until Settle took charge of the game. With the score tied 7-7, Settle scored on three straight kills to put Rappahannock up for good.
"In Game 3 our passing fell apart," Lauren Settle said. "We fought back though, and came out ahead in the end. We've had a tough time getting our passing game going so far this season, but I thought we did pretty well when it really mattered."
Brooklyn Steele led the Hawks with six kills and an ace. Salazar finished the night with three kills, two blocks and one ace, and Natalie Freeman scored on four aces and two kills for Skyline.