By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's volleyball team has struggled to find any semblance of consistency on the court all season long, and things were no different against visiting George Mason on Tuesday night.
The Rams were able to win the match's first set, but the Mustangs responded to win the final three to hand Strasburg a 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 22-25, 8-25) Bull Run District loss. Strasburg (8-7, 5-7 Bull Run) has now lost three in a row -- all in the district -- and four of its last five.
"I think right now it's a lack of confidence in finishing things," Rams coach Suzanne Mathias said. "We've been inconsistent and this group just doesn't think they're supposed to win, so they just don't have the confidence to finish and push through."
Everything seemed fine for the Rams in the opening set, as a balanced offensive attack kept the Mustangs (9-5, 7-5) at bay. Strasburg squandered an early 12-7 lead following a George Mason timeout early in the first set, but the Rams broke an 18-all tie and gained a 22-18 advantage following a kill by Allison Bromley and an ace by Emily Ioannides.
A kill by McKenzie Stickley a few exchanges later put Strasburg at game point, and a Mustangs service error gave the Rams a 1-0 lead.
George Mason coach Erik Healey admitted his team was a "little lethargic" when they got off the bus prior to the match, and that sluggishness carried over into the early part of the match. The Mustangs committed a combined 23 errors in the first two games.
"I think we came out a little slow, but we won the last three sets," Healey said. "I think we started to relax, play our game. We started to pass the ball much better, which allowed us to get the attacks that we wanted."
While George Mason's offense started to find a rhythm in the second game, the Rams' offense began to sputter.
Strasburg managed just four kills as a team in the second game, which allowed the Mustangs to overcome 14 unforced errors in the 25-20 victory that tied the match at 1-1.
"I think we stop talking. You hear us yelling, you hear us talking, and then it just stops," Rams senior McKenna Orndorff said of Strasburg's inconsistencies. "That's when we stop coming back up."
Miscommunication has been a problem for the Rams all season, and Mathias said it boils down to the trust level among the girls on the team. Orndorff admitted that sometimes Strasburg starts playing the "blame game."
"They don't trust each other on court, and in volleyball you've got to trust, you've got to know where you're supposed to be and have fun," Mathias said. "When they do that, they're unstoppable. When they don't, you see what happens."
Strasburg did begin to show some life in the third game, as the Rams rallied from a 12-3 deficit to eventually tie the set at 18-all. The Rams used a 9-1 run during that span in which sophomore Rachel Funkhouser recorded two kills and senior Marissa Doman added two aces.
The Rams caught a bad break when a would-be kill by Doman was ruled an error, and George Mason extended its lead to 22-18 on an ace by Casey Sheehy. Strasburg again rallied to tie the game, aided by two kills from Orndorff, but the Mustangs got kills by Sally Karstens and Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong to put the set away.
"They work so hard to battle back and fight, and then it's just like they think that they're not supposed to win," Mathias said. "That's a confidence thing. They could beat that team. They really could. They did it in the first set."
The disappointment from the close loss in the third set seemed to carry over to the fourth, as the Rams put up little resistance in a 25-8 loss.
Orndorff led Strasburg with seven kills in the match, while senior Mikala Alsberry and junior Hannah Keane tallied six kills apiece for the Rams.
Karstens led the Mustangs with 12 kills, and Addo-Ashong finished with six kills, five blocks and four aces for George Mason. Dana Sembera also added six aces for the Mustangs.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD