Slow start costs Rams in loss to Eagles

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Strasburg’s volleyball team simply waited too long to get going on Tuesday evening.

The fifth-seeded Rams, who traveled to Clarke County for the quarterfinal round of the Conference 35 tournament, dug itself an early hole after two sets against the Eagles and couldn’t muster enough energy over the final two games to overcome it. The No. 4 Eagles picked up a 3-1 (25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 25-16) win to advance to Thursday’s semifinal round at top-seeded Madison County, while Strasburg’s season came to a quick end.

“We just were flat,” Rams head coach Suzanne Mathias said. “There was no emotion, no enthusiasm for the first game and a half… There wasn’t life, and when you’re in do-or-die you have to come in with the intent to do things and we didn’t.”

Errors plagued the Rams (9-13) early on, as Strasburg committed nine attack errors against eight kills as a team in the match’s opening set. Only 10 of Clarke County’s points in the first game came via ace, kill or block, with the Rams essentially giving the Eagles 15 points off unforced errors.

“Most of our problems were up at the net. And errors. It was just errors,” Strasburg senior hitter Hannah Keane said. “Most of the points they got we gave to them from missed serves, hitting errors.”

The first set began competitively as both sides traded points evenly throughout the first half of the game. Strasburg took an 11-10 lead on block by Keane but a Rams hitting error helped trigger a 10-3 Clarke County run that ended with the Eagles taking a 20-14 lead.

The Rams rallied to trim the deficit to 21-19 after three Clarke County errors and another block by Keane, but back-to-back errors by Strasburg, a block by Eagles junior Rebecca Acland and a kill by senior Kaitlyn Turner gave Clarke County the 25-20 win.

“A lot of us did have the energy level up but then some of us didn’t, and that was the thing,” Keane said. “It’s such a team sport. It takes every single one of us, not just three or four of us on court. It takes all six.”

The second set began similarly to the first, as Clarke County (13-10) held a 13-12 lead after an ace by Strasburg junior Kelsey Jenkins. However, eight Strasburg errors helped spur on a 10-1 run by the Eagles.

The Rams did manage to cut the deficit back to five points after a kill by Emily Alexander, a block by Kerigan Jenkins and an ace by Laura Taylor, but another Strasburg error sealed the Eagles’ 25-19 win and gave Clarke County a 2-0 lead.

“We made too many mistakes,” Mathias said. “If you keep hitting the ball out you have to adjust, and it took them too long to adjust. Even calling timeouts and talking to them, it took them too long to adjust that. It’s frustrating but you live and learn, move on.”

Strasburg began to show life in the third set, as the Rams rallied to stave off elimination with 25-21 win. Mathias credited junior Miley Hupp — who came off the bench for the first time in the third game — with providing the Rams with a little energy.

“I think Miley coming in, she just was hustling. She scrapped after balls. She wasn’t going to let the ball hit the floor and then they fed off that,” Mathias said. “I just don’t know why all of them couldn’t do that from the get-go and not just one player coming in and doing it.”

Clarke County built a 16-12 lead in the third set but Strasburg rallied to eventually take a 21-18 lead behind two kills by Taylor, an ace by Haley Copeland and a kill by Nicole Killen during the run.

Keane’s first kill of the set gave the Rams game point, and Killen (seven kills, three aces) served up an ace to cap the win and avoid the sweep.

“We started covering really well off the block,” said Keane, who led the Rams with 10 kills and three blocks. “And really when Miley came in and got us back up, she got the enthusiasm back up there and then we came back and won. Then it just dropped back again.”

The Eagles ran away with the fourth set as they smashed 11 kills and served four aces as a team en route to the 25-16 win.

Clarke County was playing without sophomore Javonna Lansdown — a first-team all-Bull Run District selection — on Tuesday due to what head coach Seneca Sowers called a “violation of school rules.” Lansdown’s absence prompted Sowers to move Allegra Eyles to outside hitter and Ashley Marean to middle hitter, and Turner picked up the offensive slack with a match-high 14 kills, including 11 over the final two games.

Eyles finished with seven kills for Clarke County, while Marean had four kills and a block.

“It was nice to see how the girls responded,” Sowers said. “Obviously we were facing a little bit of adversity tonight. We had some people playing in positions they haven’t played in this year. I thought our girls did a great job on coverage and really just not letting one or two points in Strasburg runs get to them.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com