By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY - Believe it or not, Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy volleyball coach Ellie Wheelock had plenty of concerns heading into this season.
With the loss of three integral members of last year's squad - Kayla Freemire, libero Hayley North and Sarah McGann - the Patriots had some reworking to do on the court this season.
So far, that seems to be going just fine. SVCA had little trouble handling Highland View (Md.) Academy on Monday, topping the Tartans 3-0 (25-13, 25-11, 25-11) to boost its season record to a still sparkling 16-0 this season.
"After losing three key seniors, I didn't know what to expect this year," Wheelock said. "So I'm very impressed and excited about what they're doing. I really wasn't expecting it, but there again I really didn't know what to expect."
Wheelock's expectations likely are rising daily now, as she develops a team featuring solid passing and plenty of hitters to make life difficult for nearly any opponent. On Monday, that was Highland View (3-4). The Tartans had no answer for the Patriots' hitting power and strong serve-receive game.
Highland View coach Derek Boyce could see why SVCA has gone unbeaten so far this year.
"Because of their coordination and a lot of communication that they're doing on the court in calling out their sets," Boyce said. "They have a lot of hitters to give the setter options."
In the opening game, setter Hannah McGann's top options were mostly in the middle to junior Carol Bartholomew and freshman Hannah Berger. Bartholomew's third kill of the match put SVCA up 9-8, the start of a four-point run that swung the game in the Patriots' favor. Leading 20-13, SVCA got a devastating five-point service run from Krista Freemire to close out the Game 1 victory. Freemire ended it with an ace, one of three she delivered in the game.
Freemire was also a force at the net, tying Bartholomew with a match-best eight kills. Berger chipped in seven, and the Patriots had eight players notch kills in the fast-moving match.
"The girls have really gotten a lot better since last year," Wheelock said. "Krista was a good hitter last year, but it also helps that Amber Miller has really improved since last year and even Taylor Jones - she's really improved."
The Patriots buried the Tartans in the second game with another timely service run, a five-point rally orchestrated by Hannah McGann. During that run, which stretched SVCA's lead to 16-7, McGann had three aces. Later on, Freemire's ace closed out the victory.
The third game was never close, as the Patriots surged to a 13-3 lead and nearly closed out the set at 24-7 before the Tartans dug in and won a few points before dropping the 25-11 decision.
Boyce said his team wasn't at its sharpest after just getting back from a long road trip for a tournament in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The Tartans' underpowered attack managed just four total kills. SVCA had 31 kills in the win.
"We just got back from a tournament, so they were pretty wiped today," Boyce said. "You only saw glimpses of what was happening in Ohio."
Wheelock credited Hannah McGann with making good use of the Patriots' diverse hitting options once again.
"I think she's gotten more mentally tough," Wheelock said. "I think that was her big key last year, was that she was making mistakes and would just kind of fall apart at times."
McGann chipped in 10 service points and a match-high four aces in the win.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>