By Dennis Atwood -- email@example.com
Host Strasburg dominated the Rappahannock County, 25-13, in the first set, but the match victory slipped steadily further away from the Rams as the Panthers took the next three sets -- 26-24, 25-23 and 25-15 -- for a 3-1 win in their Bull Run District volleyball contest Thursday night.
Rams senior hitter Julia Morikawa ignited Strasburg to a blazing start, serving seven consecutive aces to start an 8-0 run and establish an 11-2 lead.
The Panthers pulled within seven at 12-5, but the Rams held a lead of eight or more points the rest of the way, with Allison Bromley notching two kills and down block and Marissa Doman served Strasburg's ninth ace of the set to score the last four points in the 25-13 win.
Strasburg lost sets two and three by squeaky tight two-point margins.
Then Rappahannock (9-7, 3-5 Bull Run) got juiced, opening the decisive fourth set on a 6-0 service hold, starting with two Strasburg attack errors and including three consecutive aces by senior setter Lyndie Paul.
Trailing 9-4, the Rams (3-10, 2-6) launched a 6-0 run, with Doman serving three aces and two kills by Allison Bromley to take their last lead at 10-9.
The Panthers then ravaged the Rams, finishing out the set 16-5, including an 8-0 service hold, with two aces by freshman Hannah Bennett, who was called up from the JV squad two weeks ago.
"It was fun, but it's the girls on this team that keep me at what I need to be doing," Bennett said. "It's great to be a Panther."
Strasburg's 26th attack error on the night gave the Panthers the match-winning point.
"After set one, we were really pumped up," Morikawa said. "I think, after we come out and beat a team in the first set, then we think it's gonna be a breeze and that we're set up to win. We always come really swell in the second set, and get ourselves down three or four points, and we always have to battle back.
"I definitely think they've improved, too, as the season's gone on, and our mindset isn't where it needs to be."
Shelby Bennett led the Panthers with eight kills, while the Rams' attack was led by Bromley with seven kills.
The squads entered the match in a sixth-place tie at 2-5 in the district.
Strasburg topped the Panthers, 3-0, on Sept. 11, the first of two sweeps by the Rams to open district play. Strasburg then went on a steep downhill skid, and now has a six-game losing streak, all against district contests.
Strasburg, which has been a perennial powerhouse over the past five seasons, (2007 state championship, 2008 state runner-up, and two state semifinal losses) has six district matches remaining on its regular-season schedule.
Strasburg's tallied an amazing 21 aces and only 10 service errors, but that couldn't overcome their 26 attack errors.
Rappahannock committed 17 attack errors and 10 service errors while scoring 12 aces.
"After set one, the strategy was just to get [the players'] communication back," Panthers coach Courtney Atkins said. "They didn't communicate at all in the first game. The just needed to be one as a team and minimize their errors.
"This is how persistence and hard work in the gym pays off."