By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline volleyball coach Lesley Detweiler knows the wins against Northwestern District competition will come eventually. But the first step to becoming a regular competitor in the district -- developing the confidence to play against the top teams in the Northwestern -- is still a work in progress for the Hawks.
Skyline, which has won just two matches against district competition since the start of the 2011 season, came into Thursday night's match against defending district champion James Wood having lost three straight in district play this season.
The Colonels ran that streak to four on Thursday, as James Wood's balance was simply too much for Skyline to overcome in the 3-0 (25-7, 25-16, 25-17) sweep -- but the Hawks did achieve some small victories as they managed to improve from set to set against the Colonels.
"After coming out of our Sherando loss [on Monday], it was 'OK, we need to pick up our level of play.' Whether that means winning -- who knows when that's going to come. But if we continue to pick up our level of play, then it will get better," Detweiler said.
"Tonight was really kind of a mental thing. We wanted to come in here, play our best and see where that went. I think that we're so used to coming in and seeing James Wood, seeing Sherando, and not being able to get those wins. We need to change that mentality and not come into the gym thinking that we already lost."
Skyline (6-7, 0-4 Northwestern) did seem a little overwhelmed by James Wood (14-3, 3-0) in the opening set, as the Colonels rolled to an easy 25-7 victory. The Hawks mustered very little in terms of offense in the set, as junior Carrie Robinson's two kills were the lone points generated in the offensive attack by the Hawks.
Points were hard to come by all night for Skyline, which managed just nine kills as a team in the match and relied heavily on James Wood errors for points.
Detweiler said she tweaked Skyline's rotation in the first two sets in an attempt to generate some offense, which may have taken the Hawks some time to adjust to, but Detweiler also credited the play of James Wood libero Allyson Iden as the main reason for Skyline's low offensive numbers.
"Their libero picks up everything. She's great," Detweiler said. "She really was reading our hitters well and I think our passing was a little bit lower than normally where we are."
Things got better for the Hawks after the lopsided first set as Skyline found some life on offense and at the service line, led by senior Megan Reinhardt's two aces and a kill in the set.
However, the Colonels were able to maintain a comfortable lead that never dipped below six points in the set after a pair of aces by Brandi Griffith helped James Wood to an early 8-1 advantage.
James Wood had six different players record a kill in the set, and eight different Colonels accomplished the feat over the course of the match. Junior Ashley Hillyard led James Wood with 12 kills in the match.
"It was definitely a team effort. Everyone contributed to the win tonight. Everyone played tonight," Colonels coach Jill Couturiaux said. "I think that just shows the depth of our roster with everybody contributing."
Skyline's best chance to take a lead in the match came in the final set, as an early ace by Reinhardt and a Colonels attack error tied the match at 4-4. But James Wood used a 7-0 run behind three aces by Megan Hillyard to gain a comfortable advantage.
The Hawks pulled to within 19-15 later in the set after a block by senior Jenny Norman and an ace by Michala Craig, but the Colonels ended the match on a 6-2 run to seal the sweep.
"I think we got better as the night went on ... I'm glad that we didn't give up," Detweiler said. "It did seem to take us a while to get going. I did make some changes tonight, so I don't know if they weren't comfortable until the end where we went back to what we had been doing. Maybe that was a little bit, too, but I'm glad that we did continue to fight and earn points."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD