By Stephen Boyle -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County pulled out both sides of the bleachers Wednesday night for a non-district volleyball match against rival Skyline High School.
"We open up both bleachers because we expect a bigger crowd," said Wildcats coach Sarah Putnam.
The Wildcats didn't disappoint those in attendance. When Warren County played Skyline on the road earlier this season, it needed five sets to put away the Hawks. At home it took just three, as Warren County swept Skyline 25-22, 26-24, 25-22.
"I'm very pleased with the way the girls came out tonight," said Putnam, whose team is now 12-3. "I think it was a total team effort to be able to pull out the win in three."
The crowd noise was a factor early on as the Wildcats jumped out to a 5-1 lead behind senior Jade Rowe's four kills and three blocks. Rowe finished the night with 15 kills and 10 blocks. She is one of six seniors who played a part in the Front-Royal rivalry match for the last time.
"Even though we're all friends, we still want to beat our rivals," Warren County sophomore Autumn Troxell said after the match.
The intensity of the rivalry showed throughout all three sets. Despite jumping out to an early lead in the first, Warren County never lead by more than six points in a 25-22 first set.
"We hung in there," said Skyline coach Lesley Detweiler, who admitted she was a little disappointed the match only lasted three sets this time around. "We played hard all night."
The Hawks came closest to taking the middle set. After falling behind 7-4, they rallied to a 12-10 lead after two aces by junior Lauren Moore and a kill by senior Katara Edwards. The set stayed close to the very end, with junior Jenny Norman trading kills with Rowe until the score was tied up at 23. Norman led all Hawks with six kills.
"She stepped up four us big time with those six kills," Detweiler said. "It's tough playing in the middle, especially when you're going up against -- I don't know how tall Jade Rowe is -- but a very tall player."
The 6-foot-2 Rowe served her only ace of the match to make it 25-24 and a kill by Troxell gave the Wildcats a 26-24 second-set victory.
In the third set, Skyline had trouble regrouping after Warren County's come-from-behind win. The Hawks never led and lost the set 25-22. Troxell had two early kills that gave the Hawks a 7-4 lead, which then grew to an 11-4 lead that the Hawks could never recover from. Warren Country took the set 25-22.
"It was the mental toughness that we were missing," said Detweiler, whose team dropped to 7-6 with the loss.
Troxell was the second leading Wildcat in kills, with 10, but after the match she was quick to pass the credit on to her teammates. She said she hits the ball hard -- but so do all her teammates -- because they have such great setters. She said she played well, but that her teammates picked her up when they needed to.
That fits right into coach Putnam's philosophy. Before every match, she gives the players a saying, but the one that's one their T-shirts reads "A successful team beats with one heart."
"This one stuck," Troxell explained. "We need to give our best team effort and I think we did."