By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
Strasburg volleyball coach Suzanne Mathias could sense her team wasn't ready to play before the Rams stepped onto the court for the opening set of Thursday's Bull District match with visiting Manassas Park.
Mathias' presumption was accurate as the Rams struggled out of the gate before eventually pulling themselves together and sweeping the Cougars 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-11) for their second straight district win.
"I could tell in warm ups, because I fussed at them at the beginning but probably didn't fuss at them enough. They didn't have any enthusiasm," Mathias said. "I knew we would get off to a slow start because of warm ups."
Strasburg's lack of focus was very apparent in the opening game against Manassas Park as the Rams committed seven service errors, including four straight serves into the net, and allowed the Cougars to hang around for much of the set.
The Rams (3-4, 2-0 Bull Run) committed 15 errors in all in the first game, nearly handing the Cougars all of their points.
"We're usually pretty slow starting, but I don't know, I think it's a focus thing," said Rams senior Julia Morikawa, who led Strasburg with six aces to go along with four kills.
Strasburg actually trailed 16-14 late in the set after its seventh service error went wide to the left, but back-to-back kills by juniors McKenna Orndorff and Katie Dofermire tied the game at 16-all.
Strasburg then began to create some separation, as 6-foot-1 sophomore Lindsey Painter tallied a pair of kills and Morikawa scored her first ace of the evening to give Strasburg a 22-18 advantage. After a Manassas Park timeout, Morikawa served up two more aces and a Cougars attack error gave the Rams the 25-18 win.
"It was way too close for comfort," Painter said. "I just think we weren't ready and they came out way stronger than they have in past years."
Mathias had plenty to say to the Rams after the sloppy first set, and her team responded by committing just two service errors over the final two sets. Strasburg also tallied 13 aces over the last two games, finishing with 16 total.
A big boost to Strasburg's serving game came early in the second set when Mathias inserted junior Emily Ioannides into the rotation. Ioannides' first serve was an ace that started a 10-0 run for Strasburg -- by the time Ioannides was done serving, the Rams held a comfortable 16-4 lead.
"I went down through my bench and I said, 'Who's going to get me a serve in?'" Mathias said. "[Ioannides] raised her hand and I said, 'OK, you're going in and serving.' And she went in and got me 10, and that makes a huge difference if you can just get your serve in and make the other team make the mistake."
Strasburg's strong serving continued into the final game as junior Marissa Doman served up four aces to help the Rams take a 13-8 lead. Sophomore Laura Taylor added three aces of her own later in the set, and a cross-court kill by Morikawa capped Strasburg's sweep.
Manassas Park struggled on offense all night. The Cougars' total offensive output amounted to seven kills, three aces and two blocks, and Manassas Park committed 37 errors.
Painter alone registered more kills than the entire Manassas Park squad, finishing the match with eight. She also added a block in the first set.
Strasburg's offense is finding its rhythm at the perfect time as the Rams are entering the heart of their district schedule.
"We've really worked hard the last week on serve, receive and passing, because it starts with the pass. If you can get the pass up to your setter, then we're going to be stronger," Mathias said. "I'm pleased with what we're doing, we just need to go a little bit faster now. We're getting now into the meat [of our district schedule] and the games are going to get a lot more challenging."