By Jeff Nations
FALLS CHURCH - Stonewall Jackson's volleyball season has been marked by mostly heartbreak and disappointment, some close calls and a few near misses.
Despite the long toil through mostly losing matches, the Generals simply didn't want it to end on Tuesday night against George Mason in the Conference 35 tournament quarterfinals.
Facing match point, Stonewall Jackson (2-15) fought off that season-ending point six times before the Mustangs' Sally Karstens hammered home a kill the Generals couldn't prevent to earn a 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 28-26) victory and advance to Thursday's semifinals.
"No, we were not ready," Stonewall senior Allison Singleton said. "We were not leaving, at least not without a fight, which I think we showed."
Already down 2-0, the Generals were staring at match point down 24-20 before George Mason (12-8) granted them a reprieve with a hitting error. Stonewall's Desirae Blank then delivered back-to-back kills to prompt a Mustangs timeout. Another George Mason error tied it at 24-all before Stonewall gave up a point on a wide return. Cheyenne Crigger tied it back up with a dink, Mason's Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong responded with a kill, and Stonewall's Brittany Singleton answered with a block to lock the score at 26-all.
From there, George Mason's hitting depth showed up one more time. Addo-Ashong knocked down another kill to put the Mustangs up, and Karstens finished it off with one final kill to the back line.
"There haven't been many teams that we've played this season that just have three or four really good hitters," Armentrout said. "It took us awhile to adjust. It's always hard to adjust when you're away from home, to the court and the gym and all that kind of stuff. It just took us a little longer than it needed to."
Stonewall lost an early lead in the first set, spurred by defensive mistakes and hitting errors. The Mustangs seemed to ease into the match before putting together a pivotal three-point run behind server Casey Sheehy to push their lead to 21-14. Stonewall rallied with three straight points after that, but managed just one more in the set.
"It's been sort of a streaky season that way, in the sense that we've really had to pull ourselves out of some deficits in some games," George Mason coach Erik Healey said. "I think it goes to the character of the team that they believe they can come back and they can win a game, even being down by a lot."
The Generals built another decent lead to open the second set, as Blank's kill put her team up 6-2 early. Midway through the set, Addo-Ashong simply took over. The sophomore notched seven consecutive points for the Mustangs with six kills and a block.
"She's just a great hitter that puts it in places that you're not," Stonewall coach Jamie Armentrout said. "Unfortunately, that's the object of volleyball. She does a really good job of hiding her shoulders and things like that to make her hits really unexpected."
Despite Addo-Ashong's scoring burst, the Generals were still very much in the set with a one-point lead (15-14) when George Mason's Mary Catherine Donovan started her service run. Six points later, the Mustangs were comfortably out front and on their way to a 25-18 win.
"I think we did things really well this evening, but we didn't play defense well," Armentrout said. "We didn't cover well on their hitters. Having never played them obviously is a disadvantage for them and us when you're in the conference tournament. The girls played well. We missed a few more serves than I would have liked and those little things that could have helped us out a little bit more, but they played hard to the end and that's all I ask."
In her final match for the Generals, Singleton had 15 kills and two blocks. It wasn't enough to overcome Stonewall's characteristically up-and-down night.
"That was our biggest problem the whole season, was just getting consistent good play throughout the whole game," Singleton said. "We really did do a good job of getting more consistent, but we still weren't quite there."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>