By Brian Eller -- firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Strasburg volleyball coach Suzanne Mathias knows the capability of her girls on the court. She also knows that on Tuesday night, despite Strasburg's 3-1 (25-16, 25-17, 15-25, 25-22) win over Stonewall Jackson, she didn't see it.
"We gotta step it up a notch," Mathias said. "Stonewall, they played well, but in my mind we could play better. We have no emotion right now, and no excitement, and it's very frustrating. I'm not taking anything away from [Stonewall] because they played a good match, but I just know the capability of our girls, and it wasn't shown out here tonight."
The "capability" Mathias referred to appeared to be on full display during Game 1. With the score tied at 5, and Strasburg's Jaclyn Ayers serving, the Rams rattled off four straight points, coasting to a 25-16 win. The mini rally was one of two spans of at least four points for Strasburg in the first game, and gave the visitors an early lead in the match.
Game 2 didn't go as smoothly for Strasburg, however. After falling behind 7-1, Mathias called a timeout, then gave her players some stern feedback while the crowd, largely pro-Strasburg, added support of its own. Whether it was the cheers from the crowd or the harsh words from Mathias, Strasburg responded, winning the next six points to even the score at 7-7. Strasburg and Stonewall battled back and forth from there, with the Rams finally pulling ahead for a 25-17 win.
It seemed as though Stonewall was headed for a shutout, but Stonewall Jackson coach Sophie Stout wouldn't let her girls roll over. Once again jumping out to an early 7-1 lead, the Generals made sure their lead wouldn't fade away a second time. Led by senior outside hitter Heather Stout, who finished with 20 kills and 11 digs, Stonewall took Game 3, 25-15. For the elder Stout, it was encouraging to see her young squad, which welcomed back just three starters, fight to get back into the match.
"We showed a lot of character out there tonight," Stout said. "Out of a team that we've got three people back that start, and the rest are 10th graders out there and they're filling slots that are huge from our seniors that left last year, but I wanna tell you they showed a lot of character tonight. That third game was huge for them and they needed it as a confidence booster."
Junior Whitney Wilkins finished with 30 assists for the Generals, while senior Nadene Pence had four of her own to go along with 14 kills. For the Rams, Ayers picked up eight kills and had 27 sets, while teammate Meghan Gum had three assists and a team-high 10 digs.
Fittingly, the fourth and final set was the most thrilling, with the teams battling back and forth on the scoreboard. With the score tied at 16, Strasburg strung together four points, leaving them just five points away from the match victory. Stonewall Jackson stormed right back, however, scoring the game's next six points, giving the Generals a slim lead, and prompting Mathias to take a timeout to calm down her players.
Mathias' timeout remedy worked once again, as the Rams scored back-to-back points to regain the lead, this time forcing Stout to take a timeout. It was the Rams who picked up the final two points, however, leaving the match with a 3-1 win, as well as a message from their coach on how to improve.
"If you're going to be a good team you've got to do all of the little things and be focused from point one to point 25 of the last game," Mathias said. "Whether it's Game 3, 4 or 5 you've got to be focused and you've gotta go 110 percent."