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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Perennial Bull Run District volleyball power Strasburg should probably be forgiven for taking Stonewall Jackson lightly. After all, the Generals managed just one win last season.
That, however, proved to be a big mistake Thursday as Stonewall handed the Rams a 3-2 (26-28, 25-20, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9) defeat in a match that was close from start to finish.
"We're very disappointed," Rams coach Suzanne Mathias said. "We played not to make mistakes and you can't play that way. You have to be aggressive and you've got to get your serves in. We missed nine serves tonight and that's very uncharacteristic for us. We can't do that and expect to win."
The victory gives the Generals (2-0) one more win than they had all of last year, and leaves the Rams scratching their heads after their opening match of the season.
"This is something new for us," Stonewall coach Jamie Armentrout said. "But our girls are playing their hearts out and trying to battle for every point this season."
It didn't take Stonewall long to let the Rams know that they were in for a tough night. Jumping ahead 3-0, the Generals battled Strasburg through the entire first set, with neither team able to mount more than a two-point lead.
Stonewall even had a chance to take the set, leading 24-23, but the Generals' return fell short and left the Rams the opportunity they needed to tie the score. With the score tied 25-25, the Generals let two returns sail wide and long to give Strasburg a narrow victory.
The second set proved to be just as close, with frequent lead changes. But with the score tied 20-20, the Generals answered the bell when Ashlie Clar and Erin Goodier hammered home kills to give Stonewall the win and tie the match 1-1.
With the Generals holding the momentum and the Rams reeling, Stonewall took advantage of the situation and built a huge 12-2 lead on Strasburg to open the third set.
But with all hope seemingly lost for the Rams, Strasburg setter Nirali Khusal went to the service line and gave momentum a distinctly purple coloring. The Rams senior nailed three straight aces and sent Strasburg on an amazing comeback that eventually tied the score 20-20.
An ace by Anna Racey and a pair of kills by Julia Morikawa and Mary McCarter finished off the Generals and gave Strasburg a 2-1 edge in sets heading into the fourth set.
But if the Rams thought they were home clear after their comeback, Stonewall gave them a rude awakening.
With Strasburg leading 5-1 early in the fourth set, the Generals began a comeback of their own that took the game away from the Rams.
"They played really well and we didn't," Mathias said. "We made a lot of mistakes and they didn't, but it's still early in the season. They really have a nice team this year."
Trailing 15-11, Stonewall rattled off nine eight straight points to take the lead 20-15 and cruised to a 25-18 win that sent the match into a fifth-set tiebreaker.
With the scored tied 5-5 in the fifth set, the Generals' Chasity Murden scored on an ace, and Goodier followed with a kill to put Stonewall up 8-5.
Despite kills by Strasburg's Taylor Hill and Racey, the Generals' lead was just too much to overcome. Stonewall got the match winner when a kill attempt by the Rams' Corissa Alsberry fell short.
"This win is a real confidence-builder for our team," Armentrout said. "To have the season like we did last year and start off this season with two wins has got everyone very excited."