By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- There just might be something brewing with Stonewall Jackson High School's volleyball team this season.
The Generals have had their struggles, plenty of them, as they tried to build some consistency in receiving serves and making the passes needed to set up their hitters. On Thursday night against visiting Riverheads, Stonewall Jackson showed just how much it has improved in that department in a hard-fought 3-1 (26-24, 21-25, 25-11, 25-19) loss to the Gladiators.
It's still another loss for Stonewall Jackson (2-14 overall, 2-10 in Shenandoah District), but it was an encouraging performance nonetheless against Riverheads (13-5, 9-3 Shenandoah).
"The last three games, we have improved a hundred times over from the rest of the season," Generals coach Jamie Armentrout said. "We've really, really been struggling all season long with serve receive and our passes. It seems like the last few games we've been working hard, and that's what we've been doing well at, and it makes a difference."
That was evident from the start, as Stonewall came out swinging in the opening set on the Generals' Senior Night match. A back-and-forth battle started to tilt Stonewall's way when Desirae Blank delivered a kill to put her team up 18-16, and teammate Elizabeth Moomaw sandwiched two aces around a Blank block to boost the lead to 21-16.
The Gladiators rallied, as Callie Surber notched three kills and Brooke Taylor delivered a pair of aces to help their team tie the set at 24-all. From there, Mariah Clark tallied her first kill of the match and Stonewall was called for a net violation to give Riverheads the win.
Clark, who missed much of the first set with an injury, came back with a vengeance the rest of the match. She finished with 19 kills for the Gladiators.
But in the second set, the Generals showed no signs of letting up. Moomaw's four-point service run helped build a 22-19 lead, and Allison Singleton closed out the set with a kill and a point off a block. It was a huge night for Singleton, a senior and Stonewall's top hitter. She had a match-high 26 kills and 27 digs.
"Allie's just a fantastic hitter," Armentrout said. "The last four games we've had, she's been close to 30 kills a game. She's just doing everything thing we need her to do."
In an effort to fill some gaps in the defense, the Generals shuffled some players around in the third set. It didn't work, as the Gladiators rolled to a 25-11 win that seemed to reestablish their dominance after a dicey start. Kelly Coffey's 11-point service run, which included five aces, was a back-breaker.
"She got a run on us," Singleton said. "We kept trying to fix it, and then she would change it just a little. It was a really good serve. We just had some trouble with it."
Riverheads coach Mark Husband said his team has worked hard on its service game all season long, and that paid off in the third set.
"The first two sets, we were a little out of sync," Husband said. "I thought my girls did really well to kind of keep battling. I was proud of them for winning that first one, and unfortunately the second one didn't go our way."
Stonewall reverted to its previous floor alignment for the fourth set, and stayed much closer. Clark was unstoppable, though, with 10 kills in the set.
"[Clark] is a great player," Armentrout said. "We did everything we could do. We double-blocked her all night and it was effective for awhile, but she's a great hitter. She worked and did what she needed to get around our blocks. We just didn't adjust in time."
Singleton said the Generals are getting close to where they expected to be all along.
"The rest of the season we've been trying to build up to the point which we're at now, so we're finally starting to get there," Singleton said. "We are so close. If we could just make it consistent all the time, then we could be the team that we know we are. We just need to show up to the games ready to play as that team."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>