By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline had seen Handley twice on the volleyball court prior to Thursday's match between the two Northwestern District rivals, as the two teams met in a preseason scrimmage and faced off earlier this year at a tournament at Spotswood.
The Hawks didn't fair well against Handley in their earlier meetings, and Skyline's primary focus on Thursday was to put together an improved effort against the Judges. Skyline did see improvement, but Handley again proved too much to handle as the Judges came away with a 3-0 (25-13, 27-25, 25-22) sweep.
"Tonight was definitely much better than previous meetings," Hawks coach Lesley Detweiler said. "Our goal was to come in and play more than three games tonight -- obviously, to win -- but definitely not go 0-3. We played three tough games, so it's hard to be too disappointed with that. They fought hard, and we picked up our level of play overall tonight. We've been working on trying to get quicker both offensively and defensively, and I think that helped seeing tougher competition like we will in the district."
Skyline (6-5, 0-2 Northwestern) played the Judges tough throughout the entire match, but Handley's balance was simply too strong for the Hawks. The Judges limited Skyline to just 24 total kills while Handley smashed 40 kills as a team.
The Judges (4-5, 2-0) had five players with at least five kills, led by senior Liz Grove's 13.
"I think it kind of throws off the other team that we're playing; they don't really know which attacker is going to be attacking at them," Judges coach Lindsay Cole said of Handley's offensive balance. "Using the middles tonight was a big advantage, kind of tipping into the short court for Skyline. That got us a lot of easy points."
Handley cruised to an easy 25-13 win in the first set as the Judges closed out the game on an 11-3 run, but the Hawks recovered and kept things interesting over the final two sets.
The Judges jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the second set behind two kills from Grove and a kill and two blocks by sophomore Liza Homan, but Skyline rallied to tie the set at 9-9 on an ace by senior Jenny Norman. The Hawks took an 11-9 lead following a Judges attack error and a kill by junior Celina Pearman, but Handley responded to once again tie the score.
The two teams battled closely before Handley gained a 21-17 edge following back-to-back kills by Grove and Semefa Tettegah, but Skyline again answered and tied the score at 24-all following a kill by libero Megan Reinhardt and a Handley error. Both sides traded kills to keep the score tied, but the Judges were able to win the set thanks to a Skyline service error and a kill by Grove.
"I think that we picked up our level and played right there with them," said Reinhardt, who finished with 23 digs to lead the Hawks. "We just had a few mistakes that were ours, like missed serves, that we can fix. We can be right there when we play them next time."
Skyline was able to take a 12-8 lead in the final set as the Judges missed on five straight attack attempts, but the Hawks couldn't hold the lead after Handley regrouped following a timeout. The Hawks pulled to within one point of the Judges on several occasions, including when an ace by Norman cut Handley's lead to 23-22, but the Judges' Rachel Dodson tallied a kill on a tip and a Hawks attack error ended the match.
"Even in the first game ... I think it was a closer game than really what it ended up being. We just kind of came out and kept grinding away," Detweiler said. "For us, what was working is that we weren't necessarily pounding the ball at Handley -- because they're good defensively at digging it up -- but finding some spots. We were able to do that tonight."
Junior Carrie Robinson led the Hawks with eight kills, while Norman added six kills and three aces.
Dodson had eight kills for Handley, and Homan tallied seven kills and four blocks. Allie Hoffman and Nicole Smith contributed 17 and 16 assists, respectively, for the Judges.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD