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Bull Run surprise: Clarke rallies to win

Strasburg's Samantha St. Clair winds up for a spike against Clarke County during Tuesday night's match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Strasburg's Anna Racey bumps a Clarke County serve during their match Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Strasburg's Samantha St. Clair spikes against Clarke County during Tuesday night's match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Strasburg's Lauren Agnew, left, and Corissa Alsberry, right, go up to block a Clarke County hit during second set action at Strasburg High School on Tuesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Strasburg's Samantha St. Clair spikes against Clarke County. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Greg Brill

STRASBURG -- Just one more point.

Moments before, Strasburg had committed its eighth attack error of the fifth set, leaving Clarke County on the cusp of a huge upset.

Clara Thiel had already scored three points off her serve for Clarke County -- including an ace -- and the senior was focused on getting the next serve over the net.

Thiel did -- nailing an ace to the back row that deflected off the arm of Julia Morikawa -- and the Eagles danced in celebration with a 3-2 (24-26, 25-23, 22-25, 25-18, 15-3) win Tuesday night to not only spoil Strasburg's Senior Night but also hand the program its first Bull Run District loss since the 2006 regular season.

The Eagles (8-11, 4-5 Bull Run) preservered to win the last two sets after after the Rams (15-3, 9-1) rallied from a late seven-point deficit to steal the third set and move ahead 2-1 in the match.

"We played hard and finally came together as a team," Clarke County senior setter Kasey Canterbury said. "We didn't let the little mistakes get to our head -- we just let it go. We played to win."

The Eagles were coming off a 3-0 loss at home to Rappahannock County and they still have a home date Thursday with George Mason, a team the Eagles lost to the first time around. But for one match, at least, Clarke County became the team to stop Strasburg's long winning streak in the Bull Run.

"We were hungrier than they were, I think," Clarke County coach Mary Brune said. "We didn't quit and played hard. The biggest thing for us was we hit smarter. We've been working on hitting it hard and smart and it paid off tonight."

The Eagles showed they belonged after making the Rams work extra hard to win the first set. Clarke County, which beat second-place Madison County at home two weeks ago, had a breakout match from 6-foot sophomore middle hitter Ammie Levi.

In the fifth set, Levi used her height and instinct to keep the Rams reeling. She had three kills and a block in the fifth, with her final kill helping the Eagles move out to a 10-2 lead.

"I really wanted to win so I just went out there and gave it my all," said Levi, who finished with 11 kills and three total blocks in the match. "I played hard."

Said Brune: "If you set her high-and-tight, I think [Levi] can push it down on anybody. It pays to be tall. You can't teach tall."

After moving up by eight in the fifth set, the Eagles kept pushing. The lead went to 13-3 before the Rams used a timeout. The break did nothing to slow the Eagles as they pulled off the double-digit win to close out the final set.

"It was exciting," Canterbury said. "We didn't want to get too in over our heads, but, yeah, we were talking about it and were excited about it. We went back out there to win."
Normally the team with power, the Rams had only three kills in the fifth set and no more than one from any one player.

"It was just a lack of focus," Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said of the match loss. "It's just frustrating, but Clarke outplayed us. You've got to give them credit for playing a good match. We stunk it up.

"I'm glad it's done. Some people might have focused on [other] things and it's good to get it out of the way and go on."

The tone was set early on for Strasburg, which had already clinched the regular season title and the top seed in next week's district tournament with a win last Thursday at Madison County. The Rams opened a pair of eight-point leads late in the first set before the Eagles came all the way back to tie it at 24.

A pair of solo blocks by Samantha St. Clair helped the Rams escape, but the Eagles came right back to rally late and take the second set to even the match.

As the match progressed, Canterbury continued to feed hitters, Levi, Chelsea Nelson, Amelia Eyles, Thiel, and Megan Allison for clutch kills.

Nelson led the Eagles with 15 kills in the match and Canterbury had 23 assists and 17 service points.

The Rams did rally well to win the third set. Down 19-12 late, senior Siaura Saville sparked the Rams to close with a 13-3 run. Saville had an early block during the spurt, then served out the last five points, including four aces.

The Eagles then opened with a 4-0 run in the fourth and coasted. Thiel had three kills, Levi had two kills and a block, and Nelson had two kills and two late aces to key the set win for Clarke County.

The Rams will have a week to think about the loss. Strasburg will receive a bye and play the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 seeds next Thursday at home in the semifinal round.

"For some reason, we were not confident [Tuesday]," Mathias said. "It was senior night and my seniors are hurting right now. But I want my seniors to use this [loss] to drive them for the tournament and going into regional play. I think if they can use that and use it the right way, it will take them far."

The Rams received a team-best 14 kills from senior Lauran Agnew.


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