By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's volleyball team found out on Tuesday that it still has a little work to do if the Rams hope to consistently compete with some of the top teams in the Bull Run District and Conference 35 this season.
The Rams hosted district and conference rival Madison County in a battle of early-season unbeatens, but the Mountaineers showed the same determination and all-around balance that led them to the Bull Run District championship a season ago.
Strasburg managed to steal a win from Madison County in the first set, but the Mountaineers' offense came to life to help boost them to three straight set victories and a 3-1 (21-25, 25-20, 25-12, 25-22) win.
The loss was a disappointing one for the Rams (3-1, 2-1 Bull Run), but Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias wasn't discouraged by what she saw from her team on Tuesday night.
"It gives me a good idea of what we really need to focus on in practice," Mathias said. "I feel good about where we are, so I'm not disappointed. I'm disappointed we lost, but I'm not disappointed in where we are at this point in the season."
Strasburg struggled to slow down Madison County's (4-0, 2-0) relentless offensive attack, as the Mountaineers combined for 43 kills and 16 aces as a team over the four sets to go along with 10 blocks.
Sheridan Santinga, a 5-foot-11 junior, led Madison County with 10 kills, four blocks and three aces. Junior Cassity Lacy added nine kills and four blocks, senior Chandler Gentry had 10 kills, and junior Logan Coates chipped in with five kills, four blocks and two aces for the Mountaineers.
"It's never ending. We've got so many girls who can play so many different positions, a lot of hard hitters," Mountaineers coach Carol Nowakoski said. "They're smart, they'll tip it, smash it -- they're very versatile."
The Rams may have caught Madison County slightly by surprise in the opening set of the night as Strasburg quickly raced out to a 13-5 lead, helped out by six Mountaineers errors.
Madison County clawed back later in the set as the offense settled in, and the Mountaineers cut the Rams' lead to 21-20 on back-to-back kills by Gentry. But Strasburg responded with a kill by junior Hannah Keane, and a kill by senior Allison Bromley (team-high 10 kills) and an ace by Marissa Doman gave the Rams a victory in the first set.
"We did get a slow start, which is kind of typical for us," Nowakoski said. "The main thing is that we didn't panic, didn't collapse. We came back and started playing good ball."
Riding the momentum that began to build late in the first set, the Mountaineers' offense powered Madison County to a quick 13-4 lead, as the Mountaineers tallied nine kills, three aces and a block during the run. Strasburg inched back into it to cut Madison County's lead to 19-17 on a block by senior McKenna Orndorff, but the Mountaineers' early lead was too much to overcome.
Madison continued to build steam in the third set as the offense continued to stay hot, and the Mountaineers cruised to a convincing 25-12 win behind 10 aces from the service line.
"They moved their serve around and we just struggled with our passes. We didn't get our passes up," Mathias said. "We just made mistakes, and I told them, I said it was going to be the team that made the fewest mistakes that would come out on top. And that's what it was."
Strasburg tried to make it interesting when it broke a 9-9 lead with four straight points in the fourth set and held the advantage for most of the game. A kill by senior Mikala Alsberry (nine kills, one block) gave the Rams a 22-17 later in the set, but Madison County scored the final eight points of the set to win the match.
Santinga scored three kills and a block during the decisive run, and Coates came up with two straight blocks to end the match.
Strasburg returns to action on Thursday when it travels to George Mason for what will be another important early season district/conference matchup.
"That will be another tough one, and it will be the same thing -- who makes fewer mistakes," Mathias said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD