By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
The homestanding Strasburg Rams snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as they surrendered late leads in two sets and were swept, 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) by George Mason in Bull Run District volley action on Tuesday night.
Trailing 15-9 in the opening set, Strasburg showed strength in the face of adversity with a ferocious 11-1 run, led by three kills and a down block by sophomore middle hitter Lindsey Painter and two aces by junior middle hitter Allison Bromley to gain a 20-16 lead.
With a 23-20 lead, the slope to victory got steeper and more slippery for the Rams as the Mustangs put together a 5-0 run on a Strasburg attack error, a service ace by Jade Taylor, a down block by Anna Freeman and a Strasburg player violation, with the coup de grace delivered on a direct return kill off a Rams defender by senior setter Maddie Johnson for the set-winner.
The Mustangs rode that turn-around momentum into the second set as they led end-to-end, enjoying their largest advantage at 16-7, and the closest the Rams could draw was two points at 17-15 and 19-17.
Freeman scored George Mason's 22nd point on down block for her fourth hitting score of the match, and tallied the set-winner with the Mustangs' 10th ace on the night.
Johnson showed she was adept at setting a hit into the scoring zone with three kills in the set to join Freeman's three-kill contribution for the Mustangs.
"I love making kills -- I never get to practice that, it's good to have," Johnson, a fourth year varsity player, said.
Setter Christian Hepner's 6-0 service run with two aces, and three kills each by Julia Morikawa and sub Kelsey Horton were Strasburg's highlights in the frame.
Painter played a key role in the third set as the Rams (3-5, 2-1 Bull Run) moved out to an 11-4 lead on kills by Painter and McKenna Orndorff and aces by Bromley and Marissa Doman.
George Mason (3-2, 2-1) turned things around on a kill by Freeman (five for the match), an ace by Casey Sheehy and three aces by Jade Taylor during a five point service hold to gain a 12-12 tie.
Trailing 18-14, the Rams geared up as Painter scored tallied three points on two kills and down block and Bromley as Strasburg established a 21-20 lead.
Then Strasburg committed four consecutive attack errors to gift the Mustangs a 24-21 lead.
Painter's match-high 11th point, on a kill, created a thread of hope for the Rams, which was snapped when Johnson smacked her fifth kill of the night to open back-left corner for the match-winner.
Sally Karstens led the Mustangs at the net with six kills.
Strasburg committed 23 attack errors to 13 by the Mustangs. The Rams served seven aces and committed only seven service errors, while George Mason landed 14 aces and made nine service miscues.
"We don't talk very well, and we don't communicate very well," Painter said. "And I definitely think we need to pick up the momentum. We definitely didn't play to our potential tonight.
"We knew we had to step it up [in the third set], but when they started leading at the end, we just started freezing up and we made a lot of stupid errors."
Strasburg, which is used to going deep into the postseason over the last five years, is in a rebuilding status, and had a shaky non-district season, going 1-4 in those early season matches.
The Rams appeared to have turned things around by winning their first two district matches, but Tuesday's outcome showed more work needs to be done to get Strasburg's game on track.
"We're making errors at the wrong time," Rams coach Suzanne Mathias said. "There's no other way to explain it. The other team is taking advantage of those errors."
"We're doing everything we want to do," Mustangs coach Erik Healey said. "We're really starting to home in on every facet of the game. Passing, serving, and on our kills, we're really starting to mix up our attack. We've got some high expectation and high goals, and that's what we're headed toward."