By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
STEPHENS CITY -- A funny thing happens to a team in the year following a district championship season: Local spectators provide the team with a list of clichés meant to describe its particular situation.
Here's the list of clichés used to describe Sherando's particular situation: The Warriors have a target on their back. The Warriors are circled on everyone else's schedule. All eyes are on the Warriors.
The list is flattering, really. What team doesn't want to compete for a district championship?
But even after Sherando's 3-0 (25-10, 25-17, 25-13) sweep of Handley on Wednesday night, Sherando coach Chuck Ashby said the Handley match concerned him just as much as next week's match at James Wood.
Then there's Millbrook to worry about. Then Skyline.
For Sherando, all last year's district championship does for this year's team is provide it with that little list of clichés.
"It's fun to know that we have the target, but it's also challenging," Ashby said. "I just keep telling the girls, 'Just play.' It doesn't matter what people say, it doesn't matter what the stats say, it doesn't matter what the papers say, you play each game every night.
"We're worried about Millbrook, we're worried about James Wood, we're worried about Skyline."
But those stats are hard to ignore: Sherando had 35 kills and 13 aces Wednesday night.
Warriors hitter Lauren Wilkins bested everyone with 12 kills. Brooke Schneider had eight kills, and Morgan Sirbaugh had seven.
And senior Megan Sirbaugh, in her first season as the Warriors' primary setter, was everywhere, lofting high sets toward the Sherando rafters and watching them splash down on the other side of the court.
"It was huge for us," Sirbaugh said of notching Sherando's first district win of the season. "We've been looking forward to this game -- we've been waiting for it for almost two months now -- so it was really huge for us and we knew we had to come out hard against them.
"We can't just lay down against a district team, so we came out hard and did our job and finished."
But if there was a low point in Sherando's win, it came in the second set, when Handley zipped off to a 9-4 lead. Three hitting errors, a service error and a net violation had the Warriors limping into a timeout.
And Sherando came out skipping: Megan James ended the rut with a kill, and Morgan Sirbaugh dripped two aces into the Handley defense, putting Sherando up 10-9.
Judges coach Lindsay Hazelette knows the reason behind Sherando's second-set rally: "Probably Wilkins," she said. "When she got to the front row was when they were getting all their points.
"We'll have to be ready for her next time."
Dierdre Carter led the Judges with six kills, precisely half the number of kills Handley managed as a team. Alexandra Bazdar had three kills, Anna Lehman had two.
Handley had four blocks in the match, two of which scored points for the Judges -- but Hazelette said her defense is plenty capable of playing better.
But it's hard to play three sets' worth of stout defense against a team buried in season-defining clichés. Those teams often make a habit of trying to prove they're worth the clichés.
"We've handled it real well," Wilkins said of Sherando's drive toward a second district title. "We practice with a positive attitude -- we stay focused, and just do the best we can.
"Just focusing on what we need to accomplish one thing at a time."