By Greg Brill -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- As her teammates gathered in a timeout, Sherando's Lauren Wilkins stayed back on the service line, looking up at the scoreboard and letting out a deep sigh. The Warriors had played a lot of volleyball on Wednesday night against some of Northern Virginia's best, and were two points from earning a four-set victory over former Northwestern District foe Kettle Run in the final match of the evening.
By now, the Warriors were exhausted. Their attacks had been crisp, but the legs were giving. The service game had dropped plenty of aces, but arms were beginning to feel heavy. For a young team that had already made an impression, there was little left to give.
The Cougars rallied to outscore Sherando 7-2 to force a fifth set. Kettle Run did not let up, pounding 12 straight points to open the fifth and gain a 15-1 decision in the set and 3-2 victory in the match.
"All the teams are tired, but we just get frustrated with each other," Wilkins said. "We're learning to work through that and work stronger as a team. That's part of building. It didn't go our way. We lost to three good teams."
It was the second time in three matches Sherando blew a possible win after a three-set lead. The Warriors had a 2-1 lead in the opener of their four-team invitational, only to lose 3-2 to Stone Bridge. Sherando got swept in three sets by two-time defending Group AA state champion Loudoun County next, but looked to be in good shape by taking two straight from Kettle Run in the last match.
"We lost the first two [sets] down at Liberty last Friday and came back to win the next three," Sherando coach Chuck Ashby said. "So they know there is a pain in [staying in long matches]. When you go five [sets] with someone like [Group AAA] Stone Bridge, and then just trying to keep up with Loudoun County in three takes all kinds of energy. But we went into the [auxiliary] gym with so much energy and took the first two [from Kettle Run]. We just got tired."
But the Cougars came roaring back to leave the home team empty-handed.
Many new faces sparkled for the Warriors throughout the day. Sisters Megan Sirbaugh and Morgan Sirbaugh provided what they could. Megan was the cheerleader on the floor, keeping up her teammates spirits after each point. Morgan had her timing down on many kills to keep Sherando competing.
The height of newcomer Brooke Schneider provided an edge around the net, as she did not back away from the block very often. And Wilkins, already a two-year veteran, went high off the floor off of Taylor Henshaw's sets to lower the boom a number of times to leave all three Sherando opponents helpless to defend her hits.
Late in the fourth set of the Kettle Run match, the Warriors were ahead 23-20. After a timeout, Ashleigh Tanis dropped a kill to bring it to match point. But the Cougars reeled off five straight points, and the Warriors were never the same.
"After playing 13 [sets] today, it's really tiring," Morgan Sirbaugh said. "It really affected all of us. We needed to pick it up in the fifth set and we couldn't. The teams we played are probably better than the teams we are going to face in our district, so it will help us in the long run."
It also helped Kettle Run when all-district outside Brooke Redmon started getting more attacks in the third set. When Redmon got in a flow, the Cougars dominated.
"In the early [sets] she struggled and then in the third and fourth she just got hot," Ashby said. "You put her on your back and she goes."