Hawks push past Falcons in 3-0 sweep

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline volleyball coach Erika Berry warned her team against a slow start when the Hawks hosted Central Monday night. The extra work the Hawks put in pre-match to prepare the gymnasium for Skyline’s annual Pink Game, plus Berry’s anticipation of an energetic start by a Falcons team desperately seeking its first win, prompted a little caution on the coach’s part.

Skyline admittedly started a little sluggish, but the Hawks came to life in the second set and held off a push by Central in the third to pick up a 3-0 (25-13, 25-11, 28-26) sweep in non-conference action.

“Before the game we kind of felt like we were all excited because it was our Pink Game,” Hawks junior setter Jessica Sims said, “but at the same time we could tell we weren’t as excited as we normally were. But I think we started falling apart in the third set, then we picked it up. We always seem to realize it when it’s too late then we really have to work to get it back, but we were able to pull it out.”

Although the Hawks (7-6) did serve up six aces in the first set – including three from senior Taylor Ziemer during a decisive late service run – Skyline mustered only five kills as a team and benefited greatly from numerous Central (0-10) errors en route to a 25-13 victory.

Things changed in the second set. Sims served back-to-back aces to open the game, then Skyline used a 7-1 run to take a comfortable 10-3 advantage. Hawks sophomore Alexis Grim had two kills during the spurt, while senior Tori Jo Brown smashed three kills, including a spike off a Sims assist that started the run.

“I think it’s more of after we win the first set then we’re ready to go,” said Brown, who tallied four of her five kills in the second set. “I think that’s basically what it is because I know when we don’t win the first set we get a little down and we have to pick each other up.

“The sets were there, the hits were there. It just kind of all meshed together that time,” Brown added of the second game.

Much like the first set, Central mustered little firepower in the second game, finishing the set with just two kills and an ace. Skyline, on the other hand, smashed 10 kills and served up nine aces in the 25-11 win.

“Staying aggressive, I think, and just making plays, putting the ball to the floor,” Berry said of Skyline’s second-set offense. “We’ve really been working on that.”

Central finally discovered some offense in the third set, as senior Savannah Gochenour gave the Falcons their first lead of the night with an ace to start the game. Single kills by Bree Pifer, Cianne Fields, Alisia Turner and Kila Watson helped Central maintain that lead until Skyline’s Nikea Whitmore served back-to-back aces and Brown notched a kill to help the Hawks build a 13-10 lead.

Falcons coach Christy Barb said she was pleased with how her team responded in the third set following a pre-game speech by assistant coach Wendy Poole.

“I just wish we could’ve held the lead. But our serves and passing tonight is what hurt us,” Barb said.

Central reclaimed a 14-13 lead after a kill and an ace by Gochenour and a block by Pifer, and the two teams fought evenly for the remainder of the game. Grim’s ace late in the match gave Skyline a 24-21 advantage but the Falcons rallied for four straight points – including back-to-back kills by Gochenour – to set themselves up with game point with a 25-24 lead.

Both teams traded service errors before Ziemer tied the set at 26-all with her second kill of the game, and Sims’ ace on the ensuing serve gave the Hawks their final lead. A hitting error by Central sealed Skyline’s sweep.

The Falcons, who haven’t played a match since Sept. 24 due to the weather, had 11 service errors in the loss, including five in the third set.

“I think a couple of factors are we honestly … didn’t have a single match last week, so we’re practicing, practicing, practicing and then the weekend and then we have a Monday game,” Barb said. “Not that I’m trying to give an excuse because my expectations are always to go in, fight and battle and win.”

Grim led all players with seven kills to go along with four aces on Monday, while Sims finished with six aces and 12 assists for Skyline. Ziemer added three kills and four aces for the Hawks, Rebecca Thomas had four aces and Katelyn Bolt four kills.

Gochenour and Fields led Central with three kills apiece, while Watson had two kills and a block. Turner had 35 digs for the Falcons.

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