Wildcats hold off Eagles for thrilling win

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County’s volleyball team had had just about enough of having to claw back from early deficits against visiting Clarke County on Thursday evening.

So when the Wildcats took the court for the fifth and deciding set against the Eagles, they made sure they were the ones firmly in control. Warren County jumped out to a big lead in the final game and held on to clinch a thrilling 3-2 (25-23, 24-26, 25-22, 17-25, 15-7) victory over their Bull Run District foes.

“We knew that we had to come out strong because in the earlier ones we started to let them get ahead and then we tried to fight back at the last second. We knew that our game plan was to just come out and just try to take control of the game right there,” said Wildcats senior Autumn Troxell, who finished with a co-game-high 19 kills.

Warren County (3-1 overall and in the Bull Run) spent most of Thursday’s match playing catch-up against Clarke County (3-2, 2-2) but still managed to trade victories with the Eagles. That theme changed quickly in the fifth set.

The Wildcats opened the game on a 5-1 run behind a block and a kill by senior Arie Roth and an ace from junior Hannah Wilson, and that lead ballooned to 10-2 behind two Troxell kills and three Clarke County errors.

The Eagles briefly cut the deficit to six points on back-to-back kills by Rebecca Acland, but an ace by Troxell, a kill by Jayme Goode and several more Clarke County errors set up match point for the Wildcats.

Senior Alyssa Pauley then stroked an ace to seal the win for Warren County.

“Before the last game we just talked about how important it was to stay mentally focused because it is only 15 points. There is less wiggle room to get down by six, seven points. So they just stayed focused,” Wildcats coach Sarah Putnam said.

The first game of the evening set the tone for what would become a very competitive match, as Warren County was able to hang on for a 25-23 win in a set in which neither team held a lead larger than three points.

Clarke County’s offense came alive in the second game, as the duo of sophomore Javonna Lansdown and senior Kaitlyn Turner powered the Eagles to a quick 11-4 lead. Lansdown and Turner each had three kills during the initial run, with Turner also recording an ace.

Warren County’s offense took a hit when junior setter Chelsey Butler appeared to roll her ankle contesting one of Lansdown’s kills. Butler had to be helped off the court and was later seen on crutches.

Putnam said she thought Butler suffered a sprained ankle.

“At the moment she went down she was our only setter on the court, so we had to sub in a setter [Michaela Berry] and adjust to that,” Putnam said. “Initially I believe that’s when we got down for a few points, right after we lost Chelsey, but again that team persevered. They came back and they rallied behind each other.”

Lansdown and Turner heated up again later in the set, as Turner stroked a point and Lansdown smashed three kills to push the Eagles’ lead to 20-12.

But the Wildcats scratched back into it. Roth started Warren County’s run with a kill, and two straight aces by Wilson and a block by Roth cut the deficit to five. Two straight kills by Troxell and three consecutive blocks by Roth (five kills, five blocks) cut Clarke County’s lead to 23-21.

A block by Pauley and an Eagles error tied the match at 24-all, but a kill each from Lansdown and Turner sealed the 26-24 victory for Clarke County to tie the match at 1-all.

“I think that we just had so many ups and downs. We weren’t consistent all the way through,” Eagles coach Seneca Sowers said. “We had times where we looked great. We were passing the ball and setting up our offense. Then we had times where there was no communication on the court. We were getting just out of whack.”

Clarke County built another big lead early in the third game as Lansdown — who finished with 19 kills — stayed hot to help boost the Eagles to an 11-5 advantage, but Warren County again responded.

A six-point service run by Troxell — which featured two aces — pulled the Wildcats within 14-12, and Pauley’s ace two exchanges later tied the score at 14.

Warren County closed the set on a strong note as two kills and a block by Troxell, two aces by Berry and a kill by Pauley rallied the Wildcats to a 25-22 win at a 2-1 lead.

Clarke County again built a big lead in the fourth set, but seven kills by Troxell kept the Wildcats in it before they eventually fell 25-17 to force a fifth game.

“Of course it always feels great to come out with a win. The girls played hard, they never gave up,” Putnam said. “There were times where Clarke County was out-hustling, they made some great plays, so they should definitely be commended for that. But we were fortunate enough to keep our heads in the game and pull out the win.”

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