By Dennis Atwood -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- The Central Falcons, returning to Group A status, after four years in Group AA, chose a tough opponent to start their season off with -- Shenandoah County rival Strasburg, who were the Group A state runners-up last year.
Although the Falcons had some bright spots in the third game, their opening game jitters, and Strasburg's veteran leadership and experience, were evident as the Rams prevailed 3-0 (25-11, 25-11, 25-19) on Tuesday in volleyball nondistrict action.
In the first game, Rams' junior setter/hitter Lauran Agnew used her jump serve to open the match with eight-straight points, including three aces and a kill, while seniors Jaclyn Ayers and Jenna Smoot contributed kills. The Falcons committed an attack error and a player violation.
After a Central timeout, Agnew made one of only two service errors she pulled in the match, giving the Falcons their first point. On the evening she notched six aces, five kills, and an impressive 31 assists.
"I worked on my jump serve over the summer," Agnew said. "I favor serving from the middle, between short and deep, and if there's an opponent I see messing up, I'll try to pick on them."
After gaining a 12-8 lead, the Rams put the game away with a 13-3 streak, including six consecutive serves, with two aces, by Ayers.
The Falcons gave Strasburg (2-1) the game-winner with a net-touch violation.
The second game was nearly a repeat of the first one. The game featured a nine-point service run by Ayers, smacking two aces and making four assists on kills. Ayers finished the match with five kills, four aces and 23 assists. The Falcons once again gave the Rams the game-winner on an attack error.
The third game looked a lot different than the previous two.
"[In game three] I was just trying to make sure people got playing time, so just putting different combinations out there and they're not used to communicating, that's why it was a little uneasy, but I wasn't concerned that I needed to put starters back in," Rams' coach Suzanne Mathias said.
Senior hitter Brea Hinegardner and junior hitter Marissa Brandon led the Falcons' improved performance, each whacking three kills, and Hinegardner added an ace, taking advantage of a large number of Ram substitutions.
"This was our first real game of the season and, except for three players, all the rest are up from JV," Hinegardner said. "So, [we're] just getting use to varsity action and getting that first game jitters out of our system."
"We talked a lot more and had more communication on the court [in game three], so we came together and worked really well as a team," Brandon said.
In the early going neither team led by more than two points and Central had leads of 6-4 and 7-5.
Then the Rams regained their earlier form to build a 24-16 lead before committing two attack errors, and junior Lindsey Toothman scored a kill, enabling the Falcons to close the gap to 24-19.
But, just as in the first two games, a Central attack error gave the Rams the game.
"After game two some of the kids said 'this could be the last game, but it could also be the first game [to win in the match],'" Falcons' second-year coach Allison Huckstep said. "It could be the last game of the night, or it could be the stepping-off point. They said 'we want to keep playing,' so I told them to really work hard and we have a lot to prove out there. So, have fun and do what we know we can do well. It took us the first two games to get into it."