Wildcats top Phoenix, advance to semifinals

By Brad Fauber

ASHBURN — The win didn’t come easy for Warren County’s volleyball team on Monday night. Then again, it’s been that way for the Wildcats for much of the season.

The No. 5 Wildcats showed their usual mettle in Monday’s quarterfinal round of the Conference 28 tournament against host Rock Ridge, responding to a meltdown in the second set by winning the final two games to secure the 3-1 (25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 25-15) win over the fourth-seeded Phoenix.

The victory sends Warren County into tonight’s 6 p.m. semifinal round at top-seeded William Monroe.

“Time and time again that’s happened with our team this season, that we either start out flat and we have to pick it up or we start out strong, start to slack a little bit and then come back,” Wildcats head coach Sarah Putnam said. “The team does an excellent job of picking each other up and what I call holding that rope for each other and coming out with a win.”

Sluggish starts have been a common theme for Warren County over its last few games, but the Wildcats made a conscious effort to halt that trend against a young squad from Rock Ridge, a school in its first year of existence that topped the Wildcats 2-0 in a conference tournament back in late September.

The Wildcats (16-8) overcame an early 3-1 deficit in the first set, turning that into an 8-4 lead after three aces and a kill by senior Autumn Troxell. The Phoenix briefly rallied to cut Warren County’s lead to 8-7 following a kill by freshman Ayanna Moore and an ace by classmate Lauren Tracy, but the Wildcats answered right back as a pair of blocks by junior Samantha Schroyer that sandwiched a kill by Troxell.

Warren County cruised from there and seized a 1-0 match lead, and early momentum, with the 25-15 win.

“We knew we didn’t really have them scouted very well, so we knew we needed to come out on our toes and ready to play because it’s one or done,” said Troxell, who had seven kills and four aces in the opening set and finished with a match-high 22 kills and six aces.

“We knew we had to come out on fire and not get behind, instead of trying to fight back trying to keep it ahead and just keep it going. I think we tried our best to do that tonight.”

It looked like Warren County was going to keep that momentum rolling through the second set, as the Wildcats built a 17-11 lead behind 12 Rock Ridge errors. But the energy shifted dramatically.

“I think we lost focus,” Wildcats senior Arie Roth admitted. “We definitely relaxed a little bit.”

Noticeably gaining confidence with each passing point, the Phoenix — whose team is comprised of six freshmen and six sophomores — began chipping into the deficit and eventually tied the set at 23-all after a kill by Tracy. A Wildcats hitting error gave Rock Ridge the lead and game point, and sophomore Erin Hughes notched a kill on a tip off a Warren County double block attempt to give the Phoenix a 25-23 win to tie the match at 1-all.

“We were down by a lot and that happens a lot with young kids… They don’t have the experience, per se, to work through it yet, to say ‘I’ve been here and I don’t mind being down five or six,'” Rock Ridge coach Chad O’Brien said. “So that’s something that we continue to work on, not worrying about the score and just doing every point at a time. They did that. They did that really well. [Warren County] made a couple mistakes, which helped us, but I think our kids played their tails off and fought for each point.”

Rock Ridge took that energy into the third set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead behind three aces from Sophia Leith and another by Samantha Rodriguez. The Phoenix (8-16) held the lead until six errors in a seven-point span gave Warren County a 13-10 advantage.

Four kills by Troxell in a seven-point stretch helped the Wildcats extend the lead to 19-12, and two kills late in the set by Schroyer sealed the 25-15 win and gave Warren County a 25-15 lead.

“We definitely let our guard down [in the second set]. We got a little comfortable and it showed, but I feel like we picked it up in that third and fourth set and proved the team that we can be,” Troxell said.

Junior Jayme Goode’s leadoff ace set the tone for Warren County in the fourth set, as the Wildcats led from start to finish in the 25-15 win, their most balanced game of the night. Troxell led the way in the set with four kills and two aces, Roth chipped in three kills and two blocks, Alyssa Pauley had two kills and an ace, and Schroyer had two kills and a block in the final set.

Rock Ridge was balanced offensively in the match. Maya Blacken led the Phoenix with seven kills, Moore and Hughes had six kills apiece and Taylor Thomas chipped in five kills.

For the Wildcats, Schroyer finished with five kills and four blocks, while Roth had four kills, four blocks and two aces. Junior Chelsey Butler had 27 assists for Warren County.

The Wildcats now must take on a William Monroe team that has beaten them three times already this season.

“We’re going to have to work hard and come out strong,” Roth said.

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