By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- All the momentum belonged to Strasburg at the start of Thursday night's Bull Run District volleyball match against visiting Warren County.
The Rams were celebrating Senior Night, fresh off a victory that had snapped an earlier skid and secure in the knowledge they'd already beaten the Wildcats once this season.
Strasburg's excitement sizzled, and then slowly fizzled as the unperturbed Wildcats fought off an early deficit in the opening set for a momentum-draining win, prevailed in another hard-fought set to follow, then closed it out with more steady play for a 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-18) victory.
Early on, Strasburg (9-9, 6-9 Bull Run) seemed to transform that sky-high energy into unstoppable momentum. Senior Mikala Alsberry helped the Rams stretch an 8-6 lead into 15-8 with three kills during that stretch, and McKenna Orndorff and Hannah Keane added one each.
Warren County (10-9, 9-6 Bull Run) simply wouldn't rattle. Alyssa Pauley came through with a kill swing the momentum back to the Wildcats, and Crystal Utter delivered two aces during a five-point service run that pulled her team back to within 15-13.
"Even when we were down, we were laughing and having fun with each other," Utter said. "That way, when we did get down it didn't spiral out of control and get much worse. We just kept feeding off each other's energy."
The Rams regrouped and pushed their lead back to six a 20-14, but the Wildcats were just heating up. Pauley delivered another kill to put the ball into top server Kylee Eyler's hands, and she promptly ran off a four-point run that got her team back within two.
Warren's Autumn Troxell recorded her first kill of the night to tie the set at 22-all. It wouldn't be her last, as the lanky junior later followed up Brooke Post's ace with a set-clinching kill.
"We can pull together and persevere and focus for the task at hand, which in that case was coming back," Wildcats coach Sarah Putnam said. "With this being their Senior Night, I felt that they probably started off the match with more momentum than we did. We just fought hard the entire match."
Strasburg overcame a bit of adversity of its own in the second set, erasing a three-point deficit with seven straight points to grab an 18-14 lead. Senior Allison Bromley was the catalyst, notching two kills and two aces during the run.
Troxell went to work, four kills and a pair of aces after that to keep the Wildcats close. Pauley's kill made it 22-all, and she had another kill that put her team within a point of securing the set win. The Rams gave it to them with a net violation.
"The seniors played with a lot of heart," Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said. "It was their last home game and they played with a lot of enthusiasm. I felt that we played well. We got to 22 the first two games, then kind of fizzled out."
The Wildcats kept up the pressure in the third set, and Troxell's kill to make it 13-12 gave her team a lead they wouldn't relinquish the rest of the way.
It was a much better result for Warren County than the first meeting against the Rams, when the Wildcats lost a 3-2 decision on their home court back on Sept. 17.
"I think we've improved the most by working as a team and communicating with each other, just playing with intensity the whole time," Post said.
Troxell finished with a match-high 12 kills, and Pauley added five. Emma Wright had three of her team's 11 aces.
"We have worked on every aspect of our game," Putnam said. "We knew that tonight was going to be a tough match, so we've been working up to this match. Strasburg is usually a pretty solid team, and they still are. We just knew that we had to come out and be consistent and confident in our play."
Bromley had an excellent all-around performance, adding five aces to go with seven kills and two blocks. McKenna Orndorff chipped in six kills and Alsberry had five for the Rams. But once more, the Rams' "roller-coaster" play hit a low patch at the worst time.
"That was the difference," Mathias said. "It was who makes the mistakes, and we made the mistakes there at the end. I told them, there's nothing that I can be frustrated about other than we lost. As far as their play, I'm fine with it."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>