By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Sherando had yet to win a set in two matches against Handley this season, but the Warriors were quick to change that Thursday in the Northwestern District tournament semifinals at Handley High School.
The third-seeded Warriors came out with energy and focus in the opening set, using five kills by senior Cassandra Slater and 13 Handley errors to seize a quick win and seemingly all of the momentum.
Sherando then raced to a six-point lead in the second set and appeared to have the Judges reeling. But then the momentum completely shifted, Handley rallied, and the No. 2 Judges won the next three games to cap a hard-earned 3-1 (18-25, 25-18, 25-9, 25-21) victory.
"I think we definitely played them the way we wanted to play them," said Warriors coach Chuck Ashby. "We were playing to surprise people, and I think win or lose, we surprised people tonight. I feel like we were playing that first game to win, and I think the second and third game we got a little bit nervous, a little bit tight."
Two kills by Sherando senior Jessica Henry and a score by Slater helped the Warriors to a 7-1 lead in the second set, but Sherando committed three straight attack errors to give Handley some life.
The Judges tied the score at 10-all on a kill by Ana Ribeiro before taking a lead they wouldn't give up for the remainder of the set. Ribeiro finished the set with six kills.
Handley was playing without senior hitter Dierdre Carter, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, but the offense hardly missed a beat after the opening set. Sophomore Alexis Zygmunt totaled 14 kills to lead the Judges, and Ribeiro added 11.
"Sherando came into the game very scrappy and had improved on a lot of their techniques against us, and we just had to readjust," said Judges coach Lindsay Hazelette. "As a team, all 13 of us were able to adjust very quickly and I think that showed as the night went on."
Slater led the way for the Warriors, slamming 10 kills through the first two sets. She finished with a match-high 15 kills.
Handley's defense buckled down in the third set, allowing just three Sherando kills while rolling to a 25-9 win to take a 2-1 advantage. Slater said the Warriors' offensive struggles in the middle sets were also partly to blame on Sherando's lack of communication.
"We stopped talking because we get so excited sometimes," said Slater. "They started reading our tips. They're defense was spectacular tonight. We tried our hardest, we tried looking for open spots, but they did play very good defense."
Sherando made things interesting late in the fourth set when they erased a 21-11 deficit as the offense found new life.
Two straight kills by Slater brought the Warriors to within 24-20, but a kill by Zygmunt -- her eighth of the set -- sent Handley into the district finals and ended Sherando's season.
"We played great together. We kind of let down at some points, which I wish we shouldn't have done, but a good thing about us is that we always know how to pick ourselves back up," Slater said. "We just didn't do it in time."
In the first semifinal match of the night, top-seeded James Wood beat No. 4 Skyline 3-0 (25-14, 25-8, 25-15) to advance to the finals. Katara Edwards led Skyline with six kills.
Handley and James Wood will play at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Handley.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org