By Ben Brooks -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Loaded with talent and experience, the Millbrook High School volleyball team understandably has high expectations for this season.
If Tuesday night's home opener was any indication, the Pioneers can certainly rise to the occasion when necessary.
Millbrook pulled away in a tight first set, overcame a deficit in the second, and showed flashes of dominance in the third en route to a 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-13) non-district victory over Martinsburg (W.Va.).
First-year Pioneers coach Kim Riordan must pinch herself each time she looks down at a roster that includes six returning starters, five of whom are seniors.
"It makes things very comfortable with me getting back into coaching," said Riordan, a 1998 Sherando graduate. "With an experienced team like this we can really jump into things right away. That's one of the perks. We don't have to spend a lot of time feeling each other out. We can jump right into it."
It didn't happen often, but whenever the Pioneers found themselves in a tight spot Tuesday, they often turned to hitter Devon Courneya. Working well with setter and fellow senior Jordan Orndoff, Courneya responded with a match-best 18 kills, many of which either started Millbrook runs or ended Martinsburg rallies.
"Devon is one of our go-to hitters," Riordan said. "She and Jordan work well together. And when we get into a pinch we look for Devon a lot. She puts the ball down hard and quick. It gets everyone pumped and helps get us started on a run of our own."
Orndoff finished with a match-high 30 assists. And though Millbrook's primary setter tried to spread the wealth as much as possible, it was hard not to find Courneya on this particular night.
"We have three really good hitters on the front row," Orndoff said. "Sometimes it's just the way the rotation falls, where [Devon's] our only big girl up front. But she was kind of getting in a groove a little."
"We flow well together," Courneya said. "Maybe it's because we're good friends outside of volleyball. We just know that even if something goes wrong we'll be there for each other."
Millbrook jumped out quickly in the first set. Courneya had kills on four of the Pioneers' first eight points to help stake her team to an 8-2 lead. Martinsburg (1-1), however, stormed back and pulled within a point twice. The first time, two Courneya kills helped stretch the Pioneers' lead to 16-13. The second time, sophomore Blake Parkes reeled off four straight points, including three of her team-high six aces, to put the Pioneers up 23-18.
Parkes' service game again played a big role in the second set. With the Pioneers trailing 10-7, Parkes went on a five-point service run to give Millbrook the lead for good.
An early 15-3 run in the third set gave Millbrook (2-0) an insurmountable 20-7 lead and allowed Riordan to substitute liberally.
Millbrook's Gennie McGuirk added eight kills and Anna Comer chipped in with four.
While she knows that fellow Frederick County rivals Sherando and James Wood make the Northwestern District a true heavyweight division, Riordan believes the sky is the limit for her experienced team.
"I don't see any reason why this team can't make it through to the regionals," Riordan said. "But we're going to take it one game at a time."