By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither will Warren County High School's volleyball program.
It's all about taking baby steps, and the Wildcats did just that Thursday night. After seeing host Clarke County rally from a two-set deficit to knot the non-district match, Warren County regained its composure, took the decisive fifth set, and won the match 3-2 (25-23, 25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 15-9).
"I was worried, I'll admit it," said first-year head coach Scott Wilde, whose Wildcats (2-3) have already surpassed last year's win total of one. "This team really needed that. They've been down for so long."
In a match that featured several impressive long rallies but also many troublesome unforced errors on both sides, the Wildcats shook off what appeared to be lost momentum with a solid fifth set.
Senior hitter Robin Mikulak, who came up big with her serving earlier in the match, made her presence felt at the net with an early kill and a block to help stake Warren County to a 4-1 lead. And though the Eagles (3-3) rallied to tie the score, the Wildcats never trailed after that. Another Mikulak kill stretched Warren County's lead to 6-4.
Later, a string of three straight Clarke unforced errors and Rachel Cerretani's kill put the Wildcats one point away from victory. Following a sideout, the Wildcats closed out the match on another Eagle error.
Mikulak said her teammates still believed they could pull out the victory even after their two-set lead vanished.
"We just realized we had to stay in there," Mikulak said. "We're good at taking losses better this year. We're better at getting things off our shoulders and moving on."
"I just told the girls to go out there and hustle if nothing else," Wilde said of his fifth-set strategy. "That was high school athletics at its finest. It was kind of a small crowd, but those who were here were excited."
Warren County gave its fans plenty to cheer about in the early going, surviving a tough 25-23 first set and taking advantage of some wholesale Clarke County substitutions in the second. Eagles coach Mary Brune, whose team edged the Wildcats earlier this season in five sets, replaced nearly all her starters for the entire second set. It took a while, but the Wildcats capitalized. Mikulak, who seldom served at all last season, ran off a string of 10 straight points -- three on kills from Brooke Rutherford -- to take a commanding 16-7 lead.
"That first game we just couldn't find that area between the net and the line," said Brune, whose team survived a five-setter Wednesday at Stonewall Jackson. "We just didn't hit well tonight, and they hit pretty well. The same girls who made those hits last night just didn't tonight."
Warren County had a chance to win the match in three sets. After trailing by as many as five points midway through the third set, the Wildcats pulled within one on two occasions (19-18 and 20-19) only to see Clarke County hold them off.