By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando volleyball coach Chuck Ashby had a feeling as his team was winning the first two sets Monday night, that they hadn't seen the best of Woodgrove yet. As the next three sets played out, he was right.
The Wolverines picked up their game and rallied for a 3-2 (13-25, 22-25, 25-20, 26-24, 15-6) win over the Warriors in the Conference 21 quarterfinals.
"We were thinking is this all they got, or are we just playing above our level," Ashby said of the way things went to start the match. "Knowing that they're in [the Dulles] district. Loudoun County took care of everybody, but you knew [Woodgrove] had to have some talent. They had some tall girls in there."
The Warriors dominated the first set with a combined 10 kills, two blocks and two service aces. Freshman Mackenzie Cornwell had five of Sherando's kills.
Sherando trailed early in the second set, and eventually fell behind 17-8. The Warriors rallied with a 17-5 run to end the set. Sophomore Kelsey Singhas had four of her set-high seven kills during the run, and an ace by Clare Milburn finished it off.
"I think we just came in a little scared," Woodgrove coach Carmel Keilty said. "The girls had never won a postseason game, and they're a young school. It takes a little bit of time to get over those nerves. Sherando played a great match. They had a great game plan. They were hitting the ball where we weren't. When we figured it out and settled down a little, we finally started to play better."
The Warriors (10-10) started the third set off strong. Cornwell had two kills to help give the Warriors a 5-0 lead. Woodgrove (10-13) battled back, and began to get quite a few blocks to counter Sherando's hitters.
Woodgrove's Brooke Packard had two blocks and a kill and Jineane Hallaj had a block to help give the Wolverines a 9-6 edge.
Two blocks by Samantha Purnell and one by Kaelin Bowman helped stretch the lead to 16-9. The Wolverines had six blocks in the third set.
"I switched up some stuff on the front row," Keilty said of her team's blocking. "That seemed to help when I switched one of my middle's and outside."
Sherando didn't go away quietly. Three kills by Cornwell and one each by Singhas and Michelle Baker helped cut the lead to 20-19. Two kills by Lexy Waldman gave Woodgrove a 22-20 lead. Waldman then sealed the set at the service line with two aces.
The Warriors found themselves down again in the fourth set. A block each by Purnell and Packard helped give the Wolverines a 16-9 lead.
Sherando's Audra Smelser was called up from the JV squad for the match, and made a big impact in the fourth set. Smelser had four kills, and senior Alaina Combs had two kills and a block to help tie the set at 23-23.
Waldman and Cornwell exchanged kills before a Sherando service error and a hitting error sealed the win for the Wolverines.
"That was huge," Keilty said of winning the fourth set. "I think that was key going into the fifth set."
"We had our opportunities," Ashby said. "We just never quit, and that was a positive for us."
The Wolverines took the momentum and didn't look back in the fifth set. They raced out to an 8-0 lead, led by four service aces from Bowman. Three kills by Waldman down the stretch helped Woodgrove advance.
"I think it is a really big win," Keilty said. "I think it's a big step for the kids. It's a big hurdle to when you win your first postseason game as a program."
Waldman had 12 kills and two blocks, and Hallaj had seven kills and a block to lead the Wolverines. Packard added five kills and four blocks. Woodgrove plays at defending state champion Loudoun County tonight at 7 p.m. in the conference semifinals.
Sherando was led by Cornwell with 15 kills, and Singhas with 11 kills and one block.
Ashby said with such a young team the season was a successful one.
"I feel like Kelsey Singhas and Mackenzie [Cornwell], who are young, got to see a lot of volleyball, and that's good for them for next year," Ashby said. "So that's helpful. I feel comfortable at what you're looking at next year. I feel good. Even Audra Smelser, she didn't back down. She didn't look scared at all playing as a sophomore. She looked good."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd