Rams rally for win over Mountaineers

Strasburg's Emily Alexander, left, looks on as teammate Rachel Funkhouser digs the ball out of the net during their volleyball match Thursday night against Madison County in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Emily Alexander hits between a pair of Madison County defenders during Thursday night's volleyball match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Cortney McDonald dinks the ball over the net during volleyball action Thursday night against Madison County. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Carey Scott winds up for this kill against Madison County Thursday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Cassie Cooper gets low to reach the ball during volleyball action Thursday night against Madison County. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Thursday’s win was a long time coming for Strasburg’s volleyball team. Four years, to be exact.

The Rams rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the final two sets against visiting Madison County to claim a 3-2 (25-22, 16-25, 22-25, 25-18, 15-10) Bull Run District/Conference 35 victory, Strasburg’s first win over the four-time defending district champion Mountaineers since 2011.

“It’s really exciting because it’s our senior year, we have seven seniors I think on the team, and we definitely played as a team tonight,” Rams senior Haley Copeland said. “We really connected. I started us off with some serves and I had confidence in my team. We swung at the ball. We came out really strong in that third set and we knew that we needed to keep that intensity up. We needed to keep going and push through. We knew we could win it.”

Thursday’s victory marked the first time Strasburg’s (4-3) group of seniors had beaten Madison County (4-4) in their varsity careers, but it was a pair of juniors that head coach Suzanne Mathias said provided the spark for the Rams.

Mikayla Kohlhaas and Jesse Boyce came in off the bench midway through the third set, and although the Rams’ late rally eventually fell short in the game, Mathias said the duo was “the complete difference at the net,” coming off a dreadful second-set loss that saw the Rams commit 17 unforced errors.

“The younger kids came in and picked the older kids up,” Mathias said. “… That’s all what we’ve been preaching is to just keep playing, and I think they’re young, so they don’t have a fear of screwing up. They just went out and they changed the whole tide in the fourth set.”

Strasburg and Madison County traded a pair of 4-0 runs to open the fourth set, before the Mountaineers gained a 14-11 advantage following back-to-back Ram errors. Strasburg then went on a decisive 7-0 run – which included kills by junior Cassie Cooper and senior Carey Scott – to take an 18-14 lead as the Mountaineers’ offensive attack began to falter.

Madison County never got closer than three points the rest of the set as Strasburg picked up the 25-18 win to force a decisive fifth game.

The Rams endured a few scoring outbursts from Madison County’s Sarah Good (match-high 12 kills) throughout the match, but Strasburg limited the junior to just three combined kills over the final two sets while the Mountaineers committed 14 attack errors in that span.

“We tried to make sure that we blocked her and just took away what she was doing,” Mathias said. “We did a good job at just hustling and matching what they did. They hustled, we hustled. They hit, we hit. That’s what I told them, you’ve got to hit with them. You can’t send free-balls over and tips over and I thought we did a nice job, for the most part, just staying up with that.”

Riding the momentum from Strasburg’s win in the fourth set, Copeland stepped to the line and gave Strasburg exactly what it needed in the decisive game. The senior served five straight points to give the Rams a 5-0 lead, a run that included two of her four aces in the match.

“I knew I had to get sure serves and then I knew on the other side of the net, I’d been serving against that same lineup. I knew kind of where I wanted to go with it, where I wanted to place it,” said Copeland, who also led the Rams with 32 assists. “I got us a couple aces and I knew that would get everybody going.”

Madison County rallied back to cut the deficit to two points twice in the set, and both times the Rams answered with kills by Boyce and Rachel Funkhouser to push the lead back to three. The Mountaineers pulled within 11-10 after a kill and an ace by Jeana Kelliher (10 kills), but Rams senior Emily Alexander smashed a kill that handcuffed a Madison defender to give the serve back to Strasburg.

Senior libero Kelsey Jenkins took it from there, as she delivered two aces as part of the winning three-point service run that ended when her serve toward the Madison County back line tied up a Mountaineer player.

“We fought back in the fourth set but I think in the fifth set we just came out and we said we need to get a lead, we can’t play catch-up the whole game,” said Jenkins, who also had 16 digs.

“Sometimes we have a hard time closing the game but I think our heads were there.”

Strasburg enjoyed a balanced offensive attack in the victory, as eight different players notched at least one kill. Scott and junior Cassie Cooper led the Rams with six kills each, while Alexander and Funkhouser added five apiece.

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

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