By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Not a lot was asked of Brooke Schneider when she entered Sherando's lineup as a sophomore middle hitter in 2009.
Her main responsibility was to put up a consistent block against the other team's big hitters. If Schneider got a couple of kills here and there, it was a bonus.
During Tuesday night's opening match with Clarke County, Schneider found herself on the receiving end of more sets. The result -- right from the start -- was a positive and carried the Warriors through to a sweep.
Schneider had a solid double-double of 11 kills and 11 aces to lift Sherando to a 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-17) non-district win.
"I was feeling good. I was pumped up and ready to go," Schneider said. "I was ready to get our season going."
Coming off a season in which it won the Northwestern District regular-season championship and advanced to the Region II semifinals, Sherando was eager to get back on the court.
"It was the first real match, so everyone had nerves," said senior outside hitter Lauren Wilkins, a fourth-season varsity member. "The new [players] we brought up, like Megan James, did real well. I think we did real well.
"We definitely picked it up in the second and third sets," Wilkins said. "There were some down times and we left some holes [open], but that's what practice is for and we'll fix things."
Schneider opened the match with a kill off first-year starter Jessica Henry's set and played with plenty of intensity to get the Warriors off to the kind of start they had hoped for.
The Eagles, also playing in their opener, rallied back to within three several times late in the first set. With Sherando's lead at 22-19, Schneider slammed a cross-court kill to up the lead to four. Sent back to serve on sideout, Schneider hit a laser down the middle of the back row untouched for an ace to force a Clarke time-out.
A short time later, Morgan Sirbaugh clinched the first set with a push-kill to the front.
In the first set alone, Schneider had four kills, three blocks and a pair of aces.
"Everyone has their moments in the match, and there's going to be sets where we're going to be off and on," Wilkins said. "Brooke played awesome tonight."
In the second set, it was the serving of Schneider that got the Warriors rolling.
Schneider reeled off seven straight aces and eight points off her serve to push Sherando out to a 12-2 lead.
As can be expected from a first match, play was sloppy at times on both sides of the net. Sherando coach Chuck Ashby had witnessed his team play well in a three-team scrimmage on Saturday, including taking three of four sets from two-time defending Group AA champion Loudoun County.
But once play began for real on Tuesday, Ashby sensed his team might have its moments of inconsistency.
"I think the adrenaline got us through the first half of that first set," Ashby said. "But then we hit the stall. But for a first match, I'm very happy with what we've done with the [revamped] lineup.
"I had a sophomore setter [Henry] out there. She's got to get some confidence, but she did well enough. She was all nervous, for a first match, I think."
Clarke used all 13 of its players throughout the match and did its best to compete. In the third set, the Eagles took only their second lead of the match, at 10-9, on an ace by sophomore Ammie Levi.
The Eagles began to get their attacks down better and pushed the Warriors hard.
"We got a little overwhelmed at the beginning with the speed of their hits," Clarke coach Mary Brune said. "Once we started adapting it was like, 'This is good.' And I don't think we're going to face anybody that's going to hit like [Sherando] does in the Bull Run District."
But in the end, it again was the play of Schneider that allowed Sherando to avoid a fourth set.
The attacks of Schneider (four kills) and the serving of Wilkins (the final four service points) sparked an 8-3 run to close out the third set.
Wilkins had five kills and five aces, and Sirbaugh added six kills. Henry finished with 21 assists in her first start. Schneider also had a match-best five blocks.
Chelsea Nelson, one of seven Clarke seniors, led the Eagles with five kills. Levi had a kill and two blocks, all in the third set.