By Ben Brooks
NOKESVILLE -- Warren County High School's volleyball team came within an eyelash of forcing a fifth set in Monday night's play-in game to the Evergreen District tournament against host Brentsville. Instead, the Wildcats must take solace in a much-improved season and hope for an even brighter future.
"We dug ourselves a hole early and always seemed to be playing catch-up," Wildcats first-year coach Scott Wilde said following his team's 3-1 (25-17, 18-25, 25-18, 29-27) loss. "That's tough to do."
Most troubling for the Wildcats was that they had legitimate chances to win both the first and fourth sets Monday and advance to Wednesday night's tournament semifinal against Kettle Run. Warren County (6-13) led the opening set 17-16, but then saw Brentsville reel off nine straight points. Three of those came on kills from Megan Dunn and three on aces by Angie Ruhstorfer.
The real back-breaker came in a fourth set that featured nine ties. The Wildcats led 20-15, and twice had set points. Each time, however, the Tigers (5-16) responded. The game-winner came when Warren County couldn't get a solid return on Kaitlyn Riordan's serve and the ball fell helplessly to the floor.
"It just kept going back and forth," said senior Paige Partlowe, who led the Wildcats with eight kills. "I don't know how they did it. I don't think we gave up. We just weren't there in the end."
The first of the two set points for the Wildcats came at 24-22, following Partlowe's dink. That's when Dunn stepped up with two straight kills. She finished the match with 12 kills, four blocks, and a pair of aces.
"We just didn't have an answer for her," Wilde said.
"She's our big hitter," Tigers coach Amy Beard said. "The girls really look to her."
To their credit, the Wildcats bounced back from the late first-set collapse to control most of the second. Behind two Nicci Hutzell aces and a pair of Partlowe kills, Warren County stretched its lead out to 16-8. The Tigers pulled within 19-17, but the Wildcats answered with two Robin Mikulak aces to regain command, and later closed out the set on Alyson Fox's block.
Though she won't be around next season, Partlowe believes the Wildcats can continue to show the kind of improvement that saw them increase their win total by five this season.
"I think next year they'll do really well," said Partlowe, one of five seniors. "I think they'll make a splash in the district."
Patricia Thompson and Mikulak each added five kills for the Wildcats. Hutzell added 10 digs and Fox had a team-best seven blocks.
Monday's loss was Warren County's third to Brentsville this season.