Panthers sweep past Strasburg Rams

STRASBURG — Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias knows her team can compete with anybody, but getting her team to believe it is still a work in progress.

The Rams started off slow in each set in a 3-0 (25-17, 30-28, 25-16) loss to Rappahannock County on Tuesday night in Bull Run District volleyball action.

“We got to figure out a way to get over the mental block,” Mathias said. “It’s just not being confident in ourselves and our teammates. We let them go on too many runs, and then it’s hard to dig out of it.”

After a slow start the Rams battled back to take the lead in the second set. A kill each by Miley Hupp and Carey Scott put Strasburg ahead 17-14. The Panthers tied the set at 18-18, and the two teams went back and forth.

Two Rappahannock errors and an ace from Hannah Alexander gave Strasburg a 24-21 lead, but the Panthers roared back.

A kill by Brianna Settle and an ace from Kayla Robey helped tie the set at 24-24. The intensity picked up even more as both teams had set points the rest of the way. Strasburg had five set points total, while the Panthers finally put the set away on their third set point on back-to-back kills by Julia Estes.

“It’s just all about character and composure and staying calm and playing your game to win those kind of (sets),” Rappahannock County coach Courtney Atkins said. “… That’s a big indicator for me as to how hard we have been working to keep in a game like that, and not to shut down or get down on ourselves.”

The Panthers (5-0, 1-0 Bull Run) once again took an early lead in the third set. Two kills by Estes and one kill by Paige Pilkington helped give the Panthers a 7-1 advantage.

“The second game when it went, 30-28, that just kind of took the wind out of the sails,” Mathias said. “It’s hard to bounce back from that.”

The Rams (3-3, 0-1 Bull Run) were able to cut the deficit to 8-7 on a kill by Mikayala Kohlhaas and an ace from Alexander. The Panthers stretched the lead back to six points on a kill each from Estes, Settle and Hannah Bennett and two aces by Kayla Brown.

Strasburg had one last run in it as a block by Emily Alexander and a kill from Scott pulled the Rams to within 14-12.

The Panthers finished the set with an 11-4 run to put the match away.

“We battled back. It just wasn’t enough,” Mathias said. “We had too many silly mistakes. … That kills the momentum that you worked hard to get.”

The first set was much like the third set. Rappahanncok raced out to a 12-6 lead, and eventually held a 20-10 edge. The Rams cut the lead in half with an ace and a kill from Scott and a kill each by Hupp and Cortney McDonald. The Panthers finished the set off with a 5-2 spurt.

Estes led the Panthers with 16 kills and a block. Settel had eight kills and Amber Smoot had five for Rappahannock.

“The girls are a great group of girls,” Atkins said. “They are very close-knit, and they have wanted a winning season for a long time. Some of these girls have been playing since the sixth grade. Their hard work is coming to fruition. I’m really proud of them. They’re playing volleyball like I haven’t seen in several years.”

Mathias said that she saw some real bright spots, including the play of Kohlhaas and Hannah Alexander off the bench.

Scott had six kills and three service aces, and McDonald had six kills to lead the Rams. Cassie Cooper had 11 assists, and Hannah Alexander had five assists and three service aces for Strasburg. Haley Copeland had five assists and Kelsey Jenkins had 10 digs for the Rams.

“I’m at a loss at how to get them over that hump,” Mathias said. “I feel like the ball is in their court as far as believing in themselves, because they’re hearing it from me, and they’re hearing it from other people but now they have to take it and go with it.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com