Rams shake off slow start to beat rival Falcons

By Brad Fauber

STRASBURG — Strasburg’s volleyball team played a little out of character early in Thursday’s home opener against rival Central.

The Rams, whom head coach Suzanne Mathias said are normally adept at communicating and rotating efficiently to the ball, simply didn’t show that same chemistry on the court in the first game against the Falcons.

Central took advantage by winning its first set of the young season, but Strasburg reverted back to a semblance of what Mathias had seen from the Rams in their first two matches this season to beat the Falcons, 3-1 (22-25, 25-14, 25-20, 25-22).

“That was odd for this group,” Mathias said of the Rams’ lack of communication in Thursday’s opening game. “… If the setter gets out of sync in taking the first ball, we haven’t had any problem with someone just stepping up and taking the second ball. For some reason they were looking at someone else to take it and they were hitting the floor. They did a little bit better job of that throughout but it still could be better because they’ve done really well with that so far.”

Central (0-2, 0-2 Bull Run), aided by a virtually nonexistent offensive attack from the Rams, broke open a back-and-forth battle early in the first game with an 11-6 run midway through the set.

The Falcons gained an 11-7 lead after a kill by senior Caelyn Moylan and an ace by junior Cianne Fields (three total aces), and another kill by Moylan several exchanges later gave Central a 14-9 lead.

Strasburg (2-1, 1-1) got just its second kill of the set on senior Hannah Keane’s attack on a free ball at the net to cut Central’s lead back to four, but an error on a Strasburg pass attempt that fell neatly between four Rams players prompted Mathias to call a timeout with her team trailing 15-10.

“I don’t know what was going on,” said Rams senior Christian Hepner, who finished the match with six kills and four aces. “We weren’t talking, we weren’t moving. Our back row wasn’t moving at all. We weren’t covering in line. We worked in practice the day before on moving, everybody at the net moving, blocking. They were killing our back row because they were getting swings in and our back row wasn’t moving, so we weren’t ready for that.”

The Falcons maintained at least a three-point lead throughout most of the second half of the first set, and Savannah Gochenour’s second kill of the game set up Central at game point. A Strasburg attack error gave Central the opening 25-22 victory, despite the Falcons committing 16 unforced errors in the set.

The Rams regrouped in the second set, as Hepner opened with a six-point service run that included three aces to give Strasburg a 6-0 lead. Another ace from senior Dakota Funkhouser gave Strasburg a 10-2 lead before the Falcons used a 7-1 rally to cut the deficit to two.

Strasburg’s Laura Taylor, Kelsey Jenkins and Hepner delivered a combined four aces during a 9-3 run to push the lead to 20-12, and Taylor’s kill later in the game gave the Rams a 25-14 win to tie the match at 1-1.

“I rely on [Hepner] a lot to get it going,” Mathias said of the senior’s serving. “It seems like if she goes on a long run then the rest of them go on a long run. But if she misses early it’s like it knocks the whole thing out of sync.”

The third game was competitive early as errors kept both teams close. Strasburg broke a 6-6 tie with an ace by Haley Copeland and gained a four-point lead on another ace by Taylor. A kill by Moylan (match-high 10 kills) briefly pulled Central back within two points at 14-12, but the Rams widened the margin quickly back to six points and won the set, 25-20.

Another back-and-forth effort resumed in the final set, as Moylan’s block cut Strasburg’s lead to 17-16 late. The Rams stretched the margin to 23-17 following two kills and a block by Keane (team-high nine kills) and a kill each by Hepner and Kerigan Jenkins, but two kills by Moylan and an ace by Caroline Truban pulled the Falcons within 23-21.

Keane smashed a kill off an assist by Hepner to set up match point, and a Central attack error sealed the win for Strasburg.

“They got the momentum, obviously, in the second game, but I’m not taking anything away from my team,” Falcons coach Christy Barb said. “They came out, they hustled. They played really well together tonight. They worked on things in practice really hard this week and it didn’t pay off as a win, but it paid off in so many other attributes of the game.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com