By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The blazing-hot Stuarts Draft Cougars are accumulating a lot of brooms as they achieved their fifth consecutive sweep at the expense of the host Stonewall Jackson Generals, 3-0 (25-20, 25-11, 25-21) in a Shenandoah District volleyball matchup Thursday night.
Stuarts Draft (6-1, 5-0) extended its overall winning streak to six matches, and is the only undefeated team in the district.
Stonewall Jackson seniors Erin Goodier, with 11 blocks, and Taylor Koontz, with a match-high 16 digs, tried mightily, but couldn't stave off the Cougars' tall and powerful hitters, as the 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter McKenna Carter scored a match-high 12 kills to go along with three blocks and two aces.
The Cougars' other offensive pillar is 6-foot-1 senior Kalee Stevenson, who, in an unusual move, occupied the libero position and contributed five kills and made the hardest hits that Taylor Koontz received among her numerous digs.
"One of the things we prepared on for this was swing your way into the block," Generals coach Jamie Armentrout said. "We knew that Stuarts Draft was a big team and they had a height advantage, but I couldn't be prouder of our front row and how they worked tonight. It says a lot for our team when you have a team as powerful as Stuarts Draft and they have to go to plan B."
Carter used several dinks, along with power spikes, in her offensive arsenal.
"Once we see that a defense is trying to cover our hits, we try to switch it up, so they're not sure what's coming," Carter said. "When they catch on to that, we just gotta get our hits in."
In the first set, the Cougars steadily built their advantage to take a 21-14 lead when the Generals went on a 5-1 run, led by two kills each from Goodier and Megan Vresics, forcing a Stuarts Draft time out with a 22-19 lead.
The Cougars were able to close out the set with a dink by Lauren Ellis and a kill by Danielle Wilson.
Stuarts Draft coasted in the second set, leading end-to-end.
Cougars junior outside hitter Chelsea Davignon went to the service line with a 15-8 lead. Using her low-trajectory hard service stroke, there were eight more points on the board, including two of Davignon's match-high six aces, when her service run ended with Stuarts Draft holding an insurmountable 23-8 lead, and finished out the frame with a 25-11 win.
"If you can't serve, you can't win," Davignon said. "You just have to serve it really well. We work on serving really hard in practice."
The Generals showed a lot of grit in bouncing back from that deep deficit to make the third set a close affair.
The squads went through six ties and four lead changes to reach a 19-18 Cougars lead.
A Cougars player violation and two attack errors narrowed their lead to 22-21.
The next two points appeared to go the Generals' way on kills that hit the sideline by Michaela Koontz and Goodier, but the referee called them out, giving Stuarts Draft a 24-21 lead.
An ace by Kathleen Quillen proved to be the match-winner for the Cougars.
"I think they [the two kills] were in," Goodier said. "It was at an important point in the [set] -- that was, like, the turning point, right there. That was the most frustrating part of it."
Junior outside hitter Allie Singleton returned Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to Page County after being out for two matches with a left ankle injury and led the Generals (5-5, 2-4 Shenandoah) with eight kills.
"We've got a lot of confidence and we're making sure the girls know it's confidence, not cockiness," Cougars coach Nickki McClure said. "We're on a roll and I think we're getting better and better."
Senior setter Lauren Ellis made 24 assists and Kathryn Snyder made 10 digs for the Cougars.
Stuarts Draft committed only five service errors, scored nine aces on the night, and made 17 attack errors.
The Generals made 23 attack errors and only three service errors.
"With this being one of the toughest teams in the district, I'm pretty excited about the way we played," Armentrout said. "We didn't play great tonight and it wasn't a huge deficit in points. It gives me hope that, with a little bit of work and some tweaking, that we can be aggressive next time and get the win."