By Jerry Holsworth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Millbrook's girls volleyball team survived a scare on Thursday in its Northwestern District season opener with Handley. The undefeated Pioneers (5-0) extended their streak to 15 straight set wins by taking the Judges 3-0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-14), but Handley (3-3) kept all but the final set in doubt until the last points.
"This was a very sloppy match on our part," Millbrook setter Jordan Orndoff said. "We definitely didn't play up to our level, but a win is a win."
The Judges stunned the crowd in the opening set by jumping ahead 5-0. In those early exchanges, Handley's scrappy defense kept the ball alive until the Pioneers finally made a mistake.
"I'm sure that there were a lot of people here who didn't think that we could stay with them," Judges hitter Kara Dixon said. "I think we surprised some people with the effort we put into this match. I'm really happy with the way we played tonight."
Facing its first set defeat of the season, Orndoff went straight to the Pioneer's strongest hitter, Devon Courneya. The Millbrook senior responded with two straight kills to narrow the Judges lead to 5-2. Megan Perry added another kill to close the Handley lead to two.
From that point it was a dogfight to the finish. Courneya contributed seven kills, and Gennie McGuirk and Anna Comer added another two each to the Pioneers' offense in the set. Dixon responded with three of her team-high six kills in the first set, and Emma Sweeney added two more.
With Millbrook clinging to a 24-23 lead, McGuirk drove home a hard kill for the set-winner.
"We came out really pumped up for this match," Handley coach Lindsay Hazelette said. "I thought that our girls gave great effort tonight. This is a very competitive district, and I think that all of the teams are capable of beating each other."
If Millbrook thought they had dodged the Judges' only bullet, the second set proved them wrong. Kills by Comer and Courneya gave the Pioneers an early 7-3 lead, but Handley came roaring back to narrow Millbrook's lead to 24-21 late in the set. Courneya finally got the set-winner with a hard kill.
"There were a lot of streaks tonight," Pioneer coach Kim Riordan said. "I'm not sure where our heads were during some of those exchanges out there. At several points I looked at the scoreboard and we had a 7- or 8-point lead, then I'd look again and it was tied."
Despite Millbrook's struggles, Orndoff was always in position to feed her hitters a good scoring opportunity. The Pioneer senior provided 23 of the assists for Millbrook's 30 kills for the match.
Millbrook finally settled down in the third set, pulling away for an early 10-4 lead. Ashley DeRemer got the match-winning kill for the Pioneers.
"Handley played very well," Riordan said. "They pushed back a lot of what we sent their way. They're very scrappy."
Courneya led Millbrook with 15 kills and two aces. Comer contributed another seven kills and a pair of blocks, and Nicole DeRemer had four aces and a kill for the Pioneers.
Dixon also had a block and an ace. Sweeney had three kills and a block, and Alexandra Bazdar had three kills and an ace for Handley.