By Dennis Atwood -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- The Strasburg Rams played like they were in mid-season form for most of the match as they took a 3-1 (25-9, 25-12, 19-25, 25-16) win over Shenandoah County rival Stonewall Jackson in non-district volleyball action on Thursday night.
In the early going, it was as if the Rams had one or two extra players on the court in dominating play, then they dropped a game, and regained their winning form.
"[In game three] we had a few more unforced errors and it gave them the momentum," Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said. "When you have someone hitting the ball as well as Heather [Stout], the momentum shifted and you gotta' go with it, give 'em credit where credit's due. As long as we're improving every match, I'm fine. It's when we have the back-slide that I get a little concerned or irritated."
The Rams launched 17 service aces, with senior defensive specialist Ally Kauffman lacing five (including three in a row), senior setter/hitter Jaclyn Ayers four and junior setter/hitter Lauran Agnew three in a row.
Ayers also had seven kills and 12 assists on the night. Three of her kills were made using a fake setting approach, hitting the ball over the net from a setter posture.
"We haven't used that technique all year and Lauran Agnew does it real well, and I've been learning off of her," Ayers said. "There were a couple of spots I found open for little quick shots. We're starting off our season very well and we're where we want to be at this point."
Junior defensive specialist/libero Meghan Gum held serve for 10 consecutive points, including an ace for the game-winner, during an 11-point Strasburg run to close out the first game. Her second ace was match-winner.
"We practice serving a lot and we serve to all different spots," Gum said. "I observe what the opponent is doing, who is positioned short and long, and try to serve to the best location."
The Rams also had runs of 5 points and 4 points earlier in the first game, with 6-foot senior hitter Jenna Smoot making four kills.
Smoot led Strasburg (7-1) with 12 kills for the match.
"I thought this was the best match we've played, by far," Smoot said. "Coach [Mathias] said for us to look out for their middle, because their front row players were dropping off to the side, leaving the middle open. There toward the end Jayce [Ayers] and a couple of us were able to shoot it to the middle and get the points.
"Our back row players are playing very well right now, Sam's [St. Clair] serving is awesome, Meghan's [Gum] serving was awesome, Ally [Kauffman] got a lot of aces, so everyone's doing their part and trying to get the team to function as a whole as best as they can."
Strasburg kept the hammer down, opening the second game with an 8-point run to extend their scoring streak to 19, before Generals' senior hitter/setter Nadene Pence ended the pummeling with a kill, starting a surprising 6-point run with Pence serving, including an ace to close within 8-6.
But the Rams returned to dominance, allowing only 6 more Generals points, and made a 7-point run to gain an insurmountable 21-9 lead. The Generals committed attack errors to give the Rams their 24th and 25th points.
Digging deep to find spunk and resilience, the Generals reversed their retreat and mounted a hard charge in winning the third game.
The squads fought to ties at 8-all and 17-all, when Stonewall Jackson achieved a 6-point run, which ended on a player violation to bring matters to 23-19.
Stout then took charge with a hard kill and an ace for the win, only the second game the Rams have lost in their current seven-match winning streak. Stout garnered 13 kills in the match.
The fourth game was closely fought in the early going. The Rams regained their early match form midway through the game with a 12-4 run, with two kills each by Smoot, Ayers, and Agnew, and one by Stephanie Conde.
Pence contributed four kills and three aces, and Whitney Wilkins made seven assists for the Generals (2-4).
"That's probably about the worst two first games I've seen us play this year," Stonewall Jackson coach Sophie Stout. "Now we did redeem ourselves at little bit [in] game three, but compared to how we played Tuesday night [3-1 win over Clarke County], we just looked like we were in shambles, but I'm glad we did it early in the season to maybe get it out of our system and maybe I won't see that any more."
"After our win at Central, we talked about [our intensity] and realized it needed to be more of a team effort and focus," Mathias said. "And the girls have turned it around, both in practice and on the court. I want hustle and I want go to the whistle."