By Jerry Holsworth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- As is nearly always the case, Thursday's cross-county rivalry match between Skyline and Warren County's volleyball teams was a battle to the finish.
The Hawks prevailed 25-23, 15-25, 25-18, 19-25, 15-11 by the narrowest of margins.
"This was much closer than we thought it would be," Skyline coach Lesley Detweiler said. "We struggled with our passing all night. When we got to the fifth game, I could feel that our seniors knew that this was the last time they would be playing in a game like this, and I thought they came through when they needed to."
The Hawks' relief at the end of the last set was matched by disappointment on the Wildcats' sideline.
"Our underclassmen really wanted to get this win for our seniors," Warren County coach Cathy Brill said. "I'm really proud of how all of our girls played. Brooke Magalis and Katie Robinson, our two seniors, really played their hearts out. It was a fun volleyball game to be a part of, and I'm very proud of the way we played."
The Hawks jumped ahead early in the first set thanks to an ace by Julie Shifflett and kills by Kristina Salazar and Brooklyn Steele. But with Skyline leading 4-1, the Wildcats came roaring back to tie the score 6-6.
After that, it was close to the end, with neither side able to mount much of a lead. With the score tied 23-23, Warren County made a trio of mistakes that cost them the set, but it seemed to motivate the Wildcats.
The Wildcats came back to start the second set with a 4-0 run, then slowly expanded on their lead. Magalis and Robin Mikulak led Warren County, combining for five kills in the set. Paige Partlow added a pair of aces to help the Wildcats knot things up 1-1 in sets.
"I thought it would be a good match," Steele said. "It's usually very close, since it's a rivalry game. But I really didn't expect it to go beyond three games. They really played with a lot of heart."
With the sets tied, Skyline returned to form in the third set and got the win. Steele scored on four kills, and Hannah Graham scored on three aces and a pair of kills for the Hawks during the set.
The fourth set reflected the see-saw nature that prevailed all night. The Wildcats rallied to take an early lead, then fought off a determined effort by Skyline to get the win.
With the match heading into the all-important fifth set, both sides came out with determination in their eyes. Neither team was able to pull away and the match and set were in doubt until the last three exchanges.
With the Hawks clinging to a 13-11 lead, Kaitlin Robinson scored on an ace and an attempted tip by Magalis failed to clear the net, giving Skyline the win.
"We knew that it was one game for everything," Steele said. "We knew that we needed to come together and play the way we are capable of playing. I thought we did that in the final game, and that was the difference."
Steele led the Hawks with 13 kills and a pair of aces. Salazar had seven kills and an ace, and Graham chipped in five kills, three aces and a block.
Magalis led Warren County with 11 kills and an ace. Robinson added a big night with nine kills.