By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando gave visiting Handley a tough test during the Warriors' Senior Night match on Monday evening, but the Judges' balanced attack was simply too much for the Warriors to overcome.
Handley had eight players tally a kill in the match -- five Judges scored at least seven kills -- in a 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23) Northwestern District victory over the Warriors.
"I thought we played hard. It's always hit or miss on Senior Night. You either get them really sad and crying, or you get them wound up because it's their last home game and all that good stuff. The girls battled," Warriors coach Chuck Ashby said.
Sherando (10-9, 4-4 Northwestern), which was swept by Handley (9-6, 6-1) in the teams' first meeting earlier this season, put together a more competitive effort the second time around on Monday. The Warriors were able to snatch an early victory in the opening set of the night, and Sherando was in good position to force a fifth and final set before the Judges erased a seven-point deficit late in the game to complete the win.
Ashby said in addition to Handley's balanced offensive attack, the Warriors struggled to find success against a Judges defense that limited much of what Sherando tried to do on offense.
Handley had four players with double digits in digs, with Alexis Zygmunt (15), Liz Grove (14), Molly Mintschenko (14) and Semefa Tettegah (11) all accomplishing the feat.
"Give Handley credit, they never gave up once. Even when they were down that fourth game they battled back. It just felt like they dug everything or put enough hand on it to get it back over," Ashby said. "It just seemed like we couldn't put three or four points together there for a while."
Sherando got off to a nice start, as the Warriors erased an early 5-1 deficit to tie the set at 6-all behind two kills from senior Alaina Combs and a kill by sophomore Kelsey Singhas.
The two teams battled closely as neither side could gain an advantage larger than two points before Sherando pulled away late and sealed the 25-22 victory on Combs' fifth kill of the game.
"I think we were a little sluggish here and there, but in the end we were able to kind of buckle down and be able to play our game," Judges coach Lindsay Cole said. "I think Sherando was just relying on us having the ball and making a mistake with that, which was working for them in the first set. Then we were kind of able to get back on our 'A' game toward the end of the game."
Handley's offense picked up in the second set, as the Judges led from start to finish and held off the Warriors despite six kills from Singhas. Five different Judges scored at least two kills in the second set, led by Grove's three.
The Judges continued the offensive surge in the third game, eventually taking a 21-13 lead on a kill by Grove. But Sherando roared back behind a five-point service run by Anna Haycocks that included three aces, and a kill by Singhas forced Handley to call a timeout with the Judges clinging to a 21-19 lead.
Tettegah and Rachel Dodson opened with back-to-back kills out of the break to extend Handley's lead to four, and Dodson smashed a kill later in the set to give the Judges the win and a 2-1 lead.
Sherando bolted out to a 14-7 lead in the fourth set as Singhas delivered a seven-point service run that included a pair of aces, and the Warriors led 18-11 following a Handley attack error later in the set.
Then the Judges rallied as Sherando had trouble stringing points together, and Handley tied the set at 21-all on an ace by Allie Hoffman. Sherando took a 23-21 lead on a pair of Handley errors, but a kill by Liza Hoffman and a Warriors error tied the game at 23.
Zygmunt (team-high 10 kills) delivered a kill on the next exchange, and Mintschenko served an ace to cap the win for Handley.
"Sometimes we just seem to have a theme where we struggle at times putting multiple points together. At one point we had Anna serve a couple in a row and Blair serve a couple ... but as far as scoring points left and right, sometimes we struggle with scoring points in chunks. And we tend to give up points in chunks, and that hurts."
Singhas led Sherando with a match-high 13 kills, while Combs delivered eight kills for the Warriors. Michelle Baker added seven kills and four blocks for Sherando.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org