By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- It might not have been James Wood or Millbrook across the net, but you would not have known it watching Sherando's volleyball team go to work Thursday night.
With an obvious high level of energy, the Warriors played with the kind of gusto that is usually reserved for a November match of meaning as compared to an early-September non-district encounter.
Sherando took the attacks to border neighbor Martinsburg, W. Va., often and earned another under-an-hour (56 minutes) sweep to remain unbeaten after four matches.
"I know energy is one of the [areas] we've really been working on -- you've got to try and keep your energy level all the way through, is what I've been telling them," Sherando senior outside hitter Lauren Wilkins said. "I tell them, 'Today, no holes [on defense]. Coming in, whether the point's ours or not, you've got to be loud and basically get inside the other team's head.' And that's what we did."
The Warriors cruised in the opening set before holding off challenges late in each of the final two sets for a 25-14, 25-15, 25-15 decision.
Three wins in four days this week -- all at home, with just a first-set loss to Liberty keeping the team from a trio of sweeps -- has Sherando already making a statement on how quickly it can come together after the loss of two graduated standouts.
"I see us building each match -- I really do," Sherando coach Chuck Ashby said. "I'm feeling a little more comfortable. It was a good night."
Four-season starting setter Taylor Henshaw has been replaced by sophomore Jessica Henry, who got a late-season callup from the junior varsity in 2009 to get her ready for this season. The Warriors also had to find a new leader on the back row when all-district libero Brooklyn Wilson moved on to college.
As she earns her keep, Henry makes an impression each match with her coach and teammates. Henry's consistent sets produced 21 assists Thursday as she spread the attacks to multiple hitters.
"[Henry's] improved so much since the first match," Sherando junior outside hitter Morgan Sirbaugh said. "Hopefully she'll keep improving. She gives all of us sets really well."
After the teams split the opening 14 points, Sherando gradually gained some space in the first set. The Warriors had 12 kills in the opening set, getting four from Wilkins and three apiece from Sirbaugh and Brooke Schneider, to power on through.
The ability to drop attacks for points offset the six missed serves the Warriors had in the first set.
Keeping their intensity up, Sherando continued to blitz the Bulldogs (0-1) in the next two sets. The kills stayed at a crisp pace and the blocking of newcomer Megan James added to the mix.
Using her frame and timing well, James -- at 5-foot-6 -- proved that height isn't always needed to throw off the other team's attacks.
James earned four solo blocks and an assisted block in the match. She also led Sherando's service game with her four aces.
"Megan James, my little sophomore, she came over to me after the first [set] and said, 'I don't know if I need to go up with [Martinsburg's hitters] or wait for her,' and I said, 'You've got to go quick [for the block],'" Ashby said. "And she turns around and had four blocks -- [all] solo blocks."
When Martinsburg creeped back ever so close in the second set, pulling to within 20-15 after a rash of hitting mistakes by the Warriors, the match looked to be turning.
That's when the energy level and intensity of Wilkins -- known for several seasons as one of the Warriors' top emotional leaders on the floor -- got the momentum quickly back in control for Sherando.
Getting a set to the near side, Wilkins sent an unreturned blast to the back row for a kill and sideout. On the next rally, libero Casey Haycocks saved a point with her dig to keep the rally going, which ended with Wilkins going to the air and sending a soft tap to the middle for another kill and seven-point lead.
Sherando scored the last five points of the set and went up two sets in the match.
"That's the thing with [Wilkins], whether she gets one kill or five kills, she gets hot and brings so much energy," Ashby said.
With so many points in a match, Wilkins admitted she could not remember the sequence -- she said, "It's hard, they all [rallies] run together" -- it's likely many of the Sherando fans could recall possibly the two most important kills of the match for the Warriors.
"You've got to have a power shot and a [finesse] shot, just in case, to mix it up because if they think you're going to hit hard and they scoot back, the front's all open," said Wilkins, who finished with seven kills in the match.
In the third set, it was Sirbaugh's turn to show off her capable hitting. Martinsburg again inched closer deep in the set, and trailed just 21-15 after a kill by Amber Wesley (team-best five kills).
The Warriors again had the drive to close things out, as Sirbaugh got a pair of kills within the last four points.
Sirbaugh finished with a match-high nine kills, five of which came in the final set.
The Warriors had tremendous defense all night as both Sirbaugh sisters -- Morgan and Megan -- and Wilkins, collected dig after dig to help limit the Bulldogs to 11 kills in the match. Sherando's serve-receive was just as steady, giving up just one ace.
Schneider also had a solid overall match, with seven kills and four total blocks. Megan Sirbaugh took over as setter in the final set and finished the match with four kills and four assists.
"We're excited to be 4-0," Wilkins said. "Hopefully we can keep moving along and pushing ourselves farther up to the top."