Patriots record sweep

By Brad Fauber

STEPHENS CITY — Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy’s volleyball team wanted to return to form Thursday against visiting Fresta Valley Christian School.

Though the Patriots entered Thursday’s match having lost just two games in six matches, SVCA didn’t feel like the chemistry was all there over the course of its last few games. The Patriots may have taken a step back in the right direction against the Pioneers.

SVCA fought off a scrappy effort from the Pioneers to pick up its sixth sweep in seven matches this season by topping Fresta Valley 3-0 (25-23, 26-24, 25-18), and more importantly, the Patriots felt pretty good about the way they did it.

“Our last few games have been really rough,” Patriots sophomore Hannah Berger said. “We didn’t communicate. We’ve been lacking in hustling and all. We had a crazy practice yesterday with conditioning and drills, so I really feel like that did help. … It was good for the team. We definitely did better today as a team than we have been doing.”

Playing without go-to hitter Joelle Beals — who tore her rotator cuff playing softball, according to Pioneers coach Chuck Freer — Fresta Valley made sure the Patriots (7-0) had to work for their seventh win of the season.

Neither team gained a lead larger than four points in each of the first two sets Thursday night, and the Pioneers rallied from a seven-point deficit late in the third game before SVCA was able to close it out.

“It’s one of those things where this team has been together for the same amount of time that their team has been together. They’ve all kind of come up challenging each other,” Freer said. “What I’ve been telling them is the same thing. We keep coming close. Last year we got swept both times and each time we lost by two points, which is kind of like tonight. Until we get one set from them, that’s when it’s going to change and they really believe in themselves. But we’re almost there.”

Fresta Valley (4-5) jumped out to a 3-0 lead quickly in the first set behind a kill by Zoe Leppke and an ace by Dori King, but SVCA responded by scoring six straight points behind two kills by Krista Freemire and three Pioneers errors.

A seesaw battle ensued from there. The Pioneers gained a 21-19 lead late on back-to-back kills by Leppke and King, but SVCA answered with a block by senior Carol Bartholomew to tie the set at 21-all. The Patriots took a 23-21 lead following a block by senior Amber Miller, but Fresta Valley knotted the score up again behind an SVCA error and Bethany Worsham’s ace.

SVCA was able to seal the win in the first set following a Pioneers service error and a kill by Berger.

“We were able to get our hits down and I think that’s just kind of what it boiled down to, getting our hits down and getting passes so that we could get the hits,” Patriots head coach Ellie Wheelock said.

The match remained tight in the second set as Leppke (match-high 12 kills, four aces) powered Fresta Valley to a 12-8 lead with five kills and an ace during that span. SVCA answered with back-to-back aces by Abigail Lynch and a kill by Bartholomew to tie the score at 12-all.

The Pioneers actually held game point in the second at 24-22 following Molly Freer’s kill, but SVCA rallied. A dig by Patriots setter Nikki Taylor fell in for a point on the following serve and Freemire notched a block to tie the set at 24-all. Bartholomew then tallied a kill and a block to seal the 26-24 win for the Patriots.

“I think it came down to communication and hustling,” said Berger, who led SVCA with eight kills to go along with two blocks and two aces. “I really feel like our back row was definitely a major part of it. They got everything up tonight and I was really happy about that.”

SVCA was able to string together consistent attacks through Taylor’s ability to distribute the ball effectively to the Patriots’ hitters, but Fresta Valley — though physically undersized compared to SVCA’s duo of Bartholomew (five kills, four blocks) and Berger — displayed good court coverage all match long.

“We can’t give away cheap points, so we have to try to scramble for as many things as we can get,” Chuck Freer said.

The Patriots finally created separation midway through the third game with a 10-3 run that resulted in a 19-12 SVCA lead, but Fresta Valley pulled back within two points after Leppke’s back-to-back aces cut SVCA’s lead to 20-18.

Fresta Valley misfired on its next three attack attempts, and Bartholomew scored two straight kills to seal the 25-18 win and the Patriots’ sweep.

“I was just pleased that there were not letdowns in this game. We just kept pushing through and we were able to finish all the games,” Wheelock said.

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