By Brad Fauber
SHENANDOAH -- Prior to Tuesday's Conference 35 tournament quarterfinal volleyball match against visiting Strasburg, Page County coach Jack Glover called his team together and emphasized the importance of enthusiasm. His message seemed to be well received.
The No. 4 Panthers were visibly more energetic than the fifth-seeded Rams, who appeared sluggish and flat against a Page County team that rolled to an easy 3-0 (25-16, 25-16, 25-14) sweep. Page County advances to the Thursday's conference semifinal match against rival Luray, while the Rams' season ended on a rather uninspiring note.
"We weren't up at all," Strasburg senior Allison Bromley said. "We didn't talk at all. We didn't communicate as a team. In the game at Warren County [last Tuesday] we played really good, and I don't know how we couldn't just get up like that and play like that this game."
For Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias, the loss was yet another frustrating defeat in a season that has been full of ups and downs for the Rams.
Mathias said Tuesday's poor performance might have been due to some of the players -- particularly the seniors -- putting too much pressure on themselves to perform well in their final match of the season.
"I don't know if it was pressure on the seniors that it was do or die ... I'm sure it's just a combination of emotions and all that," Mathias said.
Page County (10-9) set the tone from the start, as a balanced Panther attack fired 17 kills en route to a 25-16 victory in the first set.
Panthers junior Alexa Wolf and senior Kayla Dean immediately jumpstarted Page County with two kills apiece to put Strasburg (10-12) in a 4-0 hole. The Panthers maintained a comfortable four-point cushion until a Bromley kill and two Page County errors pulled the Rams within 16-14, but the Panthers ended the set on a 9-2 run to take a 1-0 lead.
While Page County's offense was rolling, Strasburg's attack sputtered. The Rams managed just six kills as a team in the set, while the Panthers' trio of Wolf, Dean and junior Kara Comer each had five kills in the opening game alone.
Glover said the Panthers placed an emphasis on containing the attacks of Bromley and Rams senior Mikala Alsberry (three kills), but Strasburg also didn't help itself.
"I don't know if my timing was off, or we didn't get a good pass," said Bromley, who finished with just five kills to lead Strasburg. "At the beginning of the first game our passes weren't up to the net at all. They were back behind the 10-foot line and the setter couldn't get a good set. That's what killed us in the beginning."
Things didn't get much better for the Rams in the second set, although kills by Bromley and senior Kelsey Horton helped Strasburg gain an early 5-4 lead. Page County heated up behind Comer, who fired three kills during a 5-1 run to give the Panthers a 10-6 lead.
An ace by Strasburg senior Marissa Doman pulled the Rams with 12-10 later in the set, but the Panthers pulled away and ended the set on back-to-back kills by Comer.
Comer led Page County with 12 kills and two aces, while Kayla Dean added 11 kills. Wolf also finished with eight kills for the Panthers, while Celia Dean had five kills and a pair of aces.
"That's the strength of team, we're really very, very good at every position," Glover said. "We serve extremely well, we pass extremely well and there's not one or two hitters that everybody can key on. We've got four or five people that you really have to watch out for."
Strasburg gained a 5-2 lead to open the final set behind two kills by junior Hannah Keane and some strong serving from Doman, but Page County's offense struck again to vault the Panthers to a 13-8 advantage.
A kill and a block by Keane pull the Rams within three points, but Page County ended the match on a 12-4 run. Strasburg's season ended when Wolf's match-point serve skipped off the top of the net and fell in front of the Rams' defense for the game-clinching ace.
"They're capable of so much more than how it ended, and that's what's hard," Mathias said. "You can't take it back and make it better for them. As a coach you want to make it better for them, and you can't."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD