By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
Strasburg volleyball coach Suzanne Mathias certainly expected her team to battle some growing pains during the early part of the 2012 season.
The Rams lost 10 players to graduation from last year's squad that advanced to the Region B semifinals, and Strasburg returns just five players from last season's roster. The lack of experience showed on Monday as Strasburg fell 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-19) at home to James Wood in the Rams' first match of the season.
"This group's got to learn the speed of the varsity game," Mathias said. "And I think once they get that, and I find a group that I want on the floor to mesh, I think they'll be OK."
Mathias substituted often during Monday's match in an effort to find the most effective combination on the floor. Despite the effort, the lack of chemistry on the court for the Rams was apparent, and miscommunication on the floor was a common theme.
Sophomore Lindsey Painter, one of the few Rams with any significant varsity experience, said the thought of playing an experienced James Wood team might have gotten into the heads of Strasburg's young squad.
"I thought we played really scared because we knew they were a good team and we knew we lost a lot of seniors," Painter said. "We didn't play to our full potential at all."
Strasburg (0-1) played James Wood tough early in the first game, trailing the Colonels 13-12 midway through the set despite an aggressive James Wood offensive attack that included four kills by sophomore Katie Houser.
Things spiraled downward for the Rams after a service error gave the Colonels a two-point advantage, and Houser widened the gap with a pair of aces from the service line.
James Wood ended the opening set on a 12-2 run.
"I thought we came out a little flat tonight," said Colonels coach Jill Lester. "I feel like we've got some work to do, and it's early. Overall, I'm pleased with our passing -- I thought we passed well tonight."
The second set played out similar to the first, with the Colonels pulling away midway through the action. Strasburg didn't help itself, committing nine unforced errors in the set.
The Rams pulled to within 9-7 on a kill by junior Allison Bromley, but Strasburg didn't pull within four points for the rest of the set after a kill by James Wood's Brandi Griffith made the score 11-7.
Strasburg's offensive attack was a problem all night, and the 6-foot-1 Painter led the Rams with just five kills.
"Passing killed us," Mathias said. "Our passes were all over the place, and then we were free-balling it over. And you can't free-ball it over, especially against a good team because they are going to set it up and you're going to eat it."
Houser led the Colonels with nine kills, and senior Emilee Payne tallied 16 assists.
Strasburg took its first lead of the contest, 4-3, in the third set before a string of errors put the Rams in a 12-5 hole. James Wood brought Strasburg back to within sniffing distance with some errors of its own, but a Rams attack error sealed James Wood's sweep.
Strasburg must quickly shake off Monday's loss as the Rams travel to Page County tonight for another tough non-district matchup. Mathias is confident that her team can gel in time for the Bull Run District schedule, which begins on Sept. 11 at Rappahannock County.
"I feel that, as far as district play and at our level, we'll be OK," Mathias said. "It'll get better once they get a group that they're consistently working with over and over."