By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's volleyball team got a bit of a break from the grind of Bull Run District play on Thursday night, but the up and down ride that has been the Rams' season to this point didn't get much smoother against visiting Moorefield (W.Va.).
The Rams jumped out to a quick two-set lead in convincing fashion against the Yellow Jackets, but Strasburg fell victim to some of the same mental lapses and lack of focus that have hit the Rams at times this season. Moorefield took advantage and made things interesting, but Strasburg was able to hold on for a 3-1 (25-14, 25-12, 25-27, 25-23) win.
"It's that roller coaster. It's frustrating. I was pleased with the first two [sets] -- I felt we stayed focused and did everything. But then it's that mental breakdown," Rams coach Suzanne Mathias said. "I'm glad for the win, but they did say going in [the locker room] it still feels like somewhat of a loss, even though you come out with a win. With how ugly it was, it was tough."
Things started well enough for the Rams (7-3) in the first two games, as Strasburg rode a strong offensive attack in the opening set to a lopsided win.
A kill by Moorefield (1-4) sophomore Tara George and a Strasburg error pulled the Yellow Jackets within a point early in the set, but the Rams went on a 14-1 run to take a commanding 21-7 lead and eventually went on to win the set 25-14 on a Moorefield service error.
The second set brought similar success for Strasburg, as the Rams used another big run to take control of the game.
Moorefield freshman Bethany Smith served up three straight aces to cut Strasburg's lead to two points early, but the Rams bolted ahead with a 9-0 run to take a 16-5 lead. Rams senior Mikala Alsberry scored three kills during the run, and McKenna Orndorff added two kills in that stretch.
Strasburg claimed a 2-0 set lead after back-to-back kills by junior Hannah Keane gave the Rams a 25-12 victory in the second set.
"The first two sets we were really talking, we were all working together," said Alsberry, who finished with a career-high 17 kills. "There were no loose balls and everything was under control. We started out strong.
"I think we start off really up, and then when it's an easier game we just kind of relax and our focus goes down. Then we just kind of lose it."
Things shifted dramatically in the third set as unforced errors began to mount for the Rams.
Moorefield took a 10-4 lead on two straight aces by junior Brooke Riggleman, but Strasburg rallied back to tie the score at 10-all behind two kills apiece from senior Allison Bromley and junior McKenzie Stickley.
The Yellow Jackets extended their lead to 21-16 later in the set thanks to three Strasburg attack errors, but the Rams eventually rallied to take a 24-23 lead after an ace by Kenzy McKelvey and kills by Bromley and Orndorff.
The two teams traded kills on the next two exchanges, and Moorefield junior Cheyenne Lender's kill tied the set at 25-all. Strasburg then committed two straight attack errors to give the Yellow Jackets a 27-25 win and extend the match to a fourth set.
The two teams continued to battle closely in the fourth set, and three straight Strasburg errors late in the game tied the set at 19-all. The Rams were able to take a 23-20 lead after a kill by Keane, but two more Ram errors and an ace by George pulled Moorefield within a point at 24-23.
Moorefield caught a bad break when a kill by Lender that would have tied the set was not counted as neither of the two referees had a clear view of the ball, and the Rams ended the match on a kill by Alsberry.
"We definitely started out really, really slow," Yellow Jackets coach Morgan Hill-See said. "To take them to four [sets], we're really proud of that. "We're really young ... so I think a lot of it is we're just really inexperienced. We're young and we get the young jitters, and it shows."
Strasburg committed 30 unforced errors in the final two sets alone after committing 14 combined in the first two sets.
Orndorff tallied 10 kills for Strasburg, and Bromley also chipped in nine kills for the Rams.
Lender had eight kills for Moorefield, and Smith added six aces.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org