Warriors battle hard in sweep by Colonels

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

WINCHESTER — Sherando volleyball coach James Minney couldn’t have been much happier with his team’s performance on Thursday night, even though they were swept by James Wood.

The Warriors hung tough with the powerful Colonels for most of two sets in a 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-17) James Wood Northwestern District victory.

“I think the first and third sets we played really well,” Minney said. “We don’t have the guns. But, I’m very proud of the girls. They’re starting to come through, starting to mesh well. The first set is what they’re capable of doing, obviously, but they struggle holding it together for more than one.”

The Warriors couldn’t have played much better against the Colonels, a Group 4A state semifinalist last year, in the opening set.

Sherando went toe-to-toe with James Wood’s big hitters and built a 16-13 lead. Michelle Baker and Mackenzie Cornwell each had three kills for Sherando during the stretch.

“I thought Sherando played extremely well in the first set,” James Wood coach Jill Couturiaux said. “I don’t think they made any mistakes, and we made a few mistakes in the first set. That put some pressure on us.”

The Colonels, who have lost only once this season, responded to the adversity. James Wood used a 7-4 run to tie the set at 20-20. Sophomore Taylor Heishman had two kills and Katie Houser and Ashley Hillyard had one during the run for the Colonels.

The two teams went back and forth until James Wood took a 23-22 lead on an ace by Houser. Sherando’s Audra Smelser had a kill to tie the set one last time at 23-23. A kill each by Houser and Hillyard sealed the set for the Colonels.

“I thought we maintained poise throughout the match. Even in that first set when Sherando played extremely well against us, I never felt like we lost our poise,” Couturiaux said. “We just maintained focus and did what we had to do.”

The Warriors (4-7, 2-1 Northwestern) played very well defensively in the first set, especially libero Erica Scully, who was constantly diving all over the floor to try to get back the hard hits from James Wood.

“She’s a scrappy player,” Minney said of Scully. “She’s our go-to person on picking up everything. Defense played well, we just can’t hold it together long enough. They have too much power. Houser plays very smart. She hits to areas we can’t cover. We can’t cover the whole floor when they’re hitting.

“They’re finding those areas, so that’s a huge compliment to them. They place the ball very well.”

The Colonels’ size and power dominated the Warriors in the second set. James Wood grabbed a quick 6-1 lead and was in control the whole way.

Sherando kept things close early in the third set. A kill each by Kelsey Singhas, Alaina Paige, Baker, Cornwell and Smelser helped the Warriors stay within a point at 9-8.

James Wood (15-1, 3-0) used an 11-3 run to take a commanding 20-11 lead. Houser, a University of Notre Dame commit, had three kills and a block during the spurt.

Sherando battled back with two kills by Baker and one from Singhas to cut the lead to 24-17, but a kill by Heishman sealed the win.

“I’m just happy with how we played,” Minney said. “It gives us a lot to build on and a lot to move forward with.”

The Colonels have played a tough schedule this season, with their only loss coming to Musselman (W.Va.). Couturiaux said she wanted her team to play a tough schedule to help get ready for the postseason.

Houser led the Colonels with 26 kills, four aces and three blocks. Hillyard had 23 assists, and Savannah Yost had 13 digs for the Colonels.

Houser missed last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Couturiaux said it’s been great to have the senior back this year.

“I told the girls we want our student body to be proud of us. We want our teachers proud of us. We want our administration proud of us. We want our fans proud of us. We want to represent James Wood High School well,” Couturiaux said. “And I feel like Katie is definitely a leader for us, and she’s leading the charge of what’s to come for James Wood volleyball.”

The Warriors were led by Baker with eight kills and a block. Cornwell and Singhas each had five kills for Sherando.

Minney said that one of the goals for his young team this season is to compete well, even against the strong teams.

“We’re trying to play a level where you’re going to have to come in and beat us,” Minney said. “You’re not going to come in and walk over us, even as good as you are, as big as you are. I think to some degree that’s what we did tonight. It’s not going to be easy. If we just stay focused and cut down on the dumb things I think we’ll be there.”