By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Since Jill Lester took over as coach of the James Wood volleyball team before the start of the 2008 season, the Colonels have implemented a jump-serve attack that has flustered many opponents.
During Thursday night's non-district match at Strasburg, Lester got to see just how good her team depth is from the service line. Five different Colonels had at least three aces apiece, and a flurry of aces in the bookend sets helped James Wood pull out a 3-1 (25-16, 25-20, 19-25, 25-14) win.
Senior Peyton Clark got the Colonels (2-0) off to a terrific start, blasting three early aces and four total in the first-set win. She would finish with a match-high nine aces.
All told, James Wood picked Strasburg's back row apart time and again, finishing with 26 aces. Hannah Tierney had five aces, Emily Shannon and Tarah Wampler had four apiece, and Megan Crabtree collected three.
"Overall, I'm very pleased that we came out and served very well," Lester said. "Peyton just did a fantastic job back there on the service line."
Though getting serves to drop for points was a big tool in the victory, the added intensity Shannon showed inspired her teammates to keep playing well.
In her fourth season on the varsity, Shannon made it obvious how much each point won off her kills against the Rams was a time to celebrate. Whenever Shannon got a set on the outside, she lowered the boom, something she did quite often as a first-team all-Northwestern District selection in 2009.
When her spikes dropped for kills -- and she led all hitters in the match with 17 -- Shannon let out a yell to go with a fist pump.
"I mean, it's just the adrenaline rush we all get," Shannon said. "We all get pumped up, and then once someone cranks the ball -- oh, my gosh, it's one of the best feelings ever. I just always get excited. We all try and stay positive."
The Rams have as many players on their roster as Shannon had kills Thursday. Sprinkling in new players with three returning starters will take Strasburg (0-1) time to create the right chemistry.
After taking a pounding in the first set, the Rams competed better in the second.
Down as much as nine points, the Rams closed to 18-17. Shannon then returned sideout with a kill and the Colonels went on a 6-0 run to all but wrap up the set. Clark again was big at the line with three aces, including two when the floor referee called Strasburg out of its rotation before the serve was launched.
If Strasburg was rattled, it certainly did not show in the third set. Senior Casey Spiker and junior Anna Racey rallied the Rams back to force a fourth set.
For the match, Spiker finished with two kills and five aces. Racey added three kills and three aces.
After seeing her team struggle often with serve-receive early on, at least Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias could take some encouragement out of how her players competed from the second set on.
"I'm pleased," Mathias said. "[James Wood's] a great team and one of the hardest-hitting teams we'll see this season. Our girls could have folded, but they kept battling and playing hard. I'm pleased with what I saw from both the young kids and the old kids."
Having suffered a loss in the third set, Lester regrouped the Colonels and encouraged them to come back and play at the high level they started with.
"That's our game -- playing with intensity," Lester said. "We lost a little momentum in the third set, but I just told [my players] to come back and get refocused. We came back and played strong in the fourth set."
James Wood never trailed in the final set. Shannon had five kills, two blocks and an ace in the last set.
The Colonels got plenty of contributions in their second road match win of the week. Crabtree had 13 digs, Clark had six blocks, Tierney and Shannon each collected five blocks, and setter Eleanor Kent made 23 assists.