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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- It was one of those matches where it was difficult to accept that one of the teams had to lose, but Clarke County fought through mistakes, setbacks, and determined play by Central to topple the Falcons 3-2 (25-14, 25-21, 21-25, 27-29, 15-12) in the quarterfinals of the Bull Run District volleyball tournament Tuesday.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a match that was as hard fought as this one was," Falcons coach Allison Hoover said. "After the first two sets, we needed to get our minds back on things, and fight back. I thought that our team did a great job of coming back."
The victory sends Clarke County to the semifinals of the district tournament on Thursday against top-seeded Strasburg. The match will be played at Strasburg, and will follow the first semifinal match between second-seeded Madison County and third-seeded George Mason.
The final set of the battle between the Falcons and the Eagles was typical of the entire match. The two teams' star hitters, Clarke County's Ammie Levi and Central's Rebecca Sigler battled each other for domination at the net with neither able to overcome the other.
Levi scored on four kills and a block during the set, but Sigler matched her with a pair of kills, and three blocks.
What determined the set, and with it the match, was two unsung Clarke County heroes. Olivia Hart and Amelia Erickson had contributed just four kills through the first four sets, but in the one that mattered both stepped forward and delivered the knockout blow to Central's chance of moving on in the tournament.
After the Falcons had come back from a two-set deficit to tie the match, they held the momentum heading into the tiebreaker. But with score tied 1-1, Erickson stepped to the service line and hammered home back-to-back aces. Levi followed with two kills, and suddenly the Eagles had the momentum and a 5-1 lead.
Moments later, after the Falcons had recovered and narrowed Clarke County's lead to 9-7, Hart scored on an ace, and Eagles hitter Simona Zduoba followed with a pair of kills to put Clarke County up for good.
"It was really rocky, but I knew that we'd pull through in the end," Hart said. "Those aces in the fifth set really helped the team's morale."
It was a dramatic comeback for a Clarke County team that had let Central back into the match after winning the first two sets.
"I think that the key to winning that final set was the fact that our girls were really upset about losing the third and fourth set," Eagles coach Mary Brune said. "Both of our middle hitters, Ammie [Levi] and Simona [Zduoba], had really good games tonight."
Levi, along with Sarah Herndon, Isabella Eyles, Brittany Teasley and Monica Warfield, proved too much for the Falcons in the opening set. Levi scored on four kills and a block, while Teasley and Warfield connected on a pair of aces each.
Herndon and Eyles also scored on a pair of kills that left Central trailing badly. To make matters worse for the Falcons, Levi's four kills equaled Central's entire team during the set, and Sigler was held scoreless.
The second set wasn't much different, with Levi connecting for five kills, and Zduoba scoring on a kill and two blocks.
But with the Eagles in the driver's seat and looking as though they were going to end the match in three sets, Central came alive.
After trailing through the opening points, the Falcons took a 9-8 lead on an ace by Morgan Davis, and fought off every attempt by Clarke County to get the lead back.
Sigler got the set winner with a hard kill.
The fourth set was perhaps the most exciting of the match with both teams aware of the consequences of losing.
Sigler scored on four kills and a block, and Rebecca Truban added another three kills to give the Falcons a 23-19 lead. Clarke County came roaring back though, and tied the score, 25-25.
When two Clarke County kill attempts sailed long, the Falcons got the win, 29-27.
"Even though we lost the set, the fourth set was really exciting and both teams played really well," Brune said.
"I told our girls at the end of the match that we have improved all season," Hoover said. "We are so much better than we were last year, and I'm so proud of them, and they way they've battled throughout the season. We really became a team, and I'm very proud of them for that."