Sims sparks Skyline to quarterfinal win over Blue Devils

Skyline's girls volleyball team celebrates after defeating Culpeper during the Conference 28 quarterfinals on Monday in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Jessica Sims gave Skyline’s volleyball team a pair of timely sparks from the service line in Monday’s Conference 28 tournament quarterfinal game against visiting Culpeper County.

The junior served a trio of aces in the second set to rally the No. 4 Hawks from a sluggish start, then powered Skyline with a momentum-shifting 13-point service run in the third game as the Hawks picked up a 3-1 (17-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-18) win. The victory, which sent Skyline into Wednesday’s semifinal game at top-seeded Brentsville, snapped a seven-game losing streak.

“When you step out there you just have to know everything has to be in,” Sims said of her serves. “You have to give everything to your team no matter what, regardless. Everything has to go in and we were just finding holes and finding their weaknesses and taking advantage of them.”

After a slow start put Skyline (8-13) into a 1-0 hole, fifth-seeded Culpeper County (6-15) continued its early momentum in the second set, building a 12-7 lead midway through the frame. A kill by Skyline freshman Alana Smith gave the serve to the Hawks and Sims pulled her team to within a point with three straight aces.

Then Skyline’s offense came to life.

Skyline's Nikea Whitmore goes up for a kill over Culpeper's Kahayla Dorsey during Monday's Conference 28 quarterfinals in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I think our hitters just kind of like get in a rhythm and then they get excited, and they just want to keep hitting and keep hitting,” said Sims, who had 22 assists to lead the Hawks. “And some of our coaches make little deals with some of us – they’ll take us out to get food if we get so many hits, so I think that really kind of pushes us to be better than we normally are.”

Skyline seniors Taylor Ziemer and Katelyn Bolt notched back-to-back kills to tie the set at 13-all – the first time in the match Skyline didn’t trail – and sophomore Alexis Grim gave the Hawks their first lead of the night with two straight kills. Senior Tori Jo Brown smashed Skyline’s fifth straight kill of the run to give the Hawks a 16-13 lead.

“We just realized, you know, we needed to come back alive,” said Grim, who led all players with 10 kills. “We know we can do this, it just takes the confidence to believe it.”

A Hawks attack error would pull the Blue Devils within 17-15, but Skyline closed the game on an 8-2 run – which included three kills by junior Nikea Whitmore and two aces by senior Becca Thomas – to win the set and even the score at 1-1. Skyline had 15 kills in the second game, and Hawks coach Erika Berry said the coaching staff was “beating it into” the players to be more aggressive at the net.

“Once we were aggressive, I mean you can’t stop that,” said Berry, whose team finished with 38 kills and 23 aces through the four sets. “Serving aggressive, hitting aggressive, we started lighting up spots and it really worked for us.”

Skyline's Allison Crescienzi goes up against Culpeper's Ashley Miller, left, and Abigail Place, right, during Monday's Conference 28 quarterfinals in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Culpeper appeared to take back control of the match in the third game, as a kill by senior Daisy Dinkens (team-high six kills, three blocks) gave the Blue Devils a 14-8 lead. But again it was Sims who swung momentum back in favor of Skyline.

After Smith once again gave the Hawks the serve with a kill, Sims reeled off a 13-point service run that included six aces to give Skyline a commanding 22-14 lead. An ace by Ziemer four points later locked up the 25-15 win and a 2-1 lead for Skyline.

Berry said Sims’ impact went beyond her 11 aces Monday night.

“I think the service line but also just her confidence and her spirit on the court,” Berry said. “She’s cheering and going crazy in huddles, on the bench, on the court and we need that.”

Sophomore Tamara Grayson, one of three JV call-ups joining the Hawks in the playoffs, came off the bench for the first time in the fourth game and served back-to-back aces to give the Hawks a 10-5 lead, and an ace by senior libero Tori Reinhardt later in the set gave Skyline a 19-11 advantage. The Blue Devils cut that lead to 22-18 before back-to-back kills by Ziemer and Brown gave Skyline match point, and Grayson sealed the win with her third ace.

Ziemer (three aces) and Brown had six kills apiece for Skyline, while Smith added five kills for the Hawks. Thomas finished with four aces and 14 assists for Skyline.

Skyline, which went 1-20 last season, can clinch a spot in the Region 3A East tournament with a win Wednesday at Brentsville. The Hawks split two regular-season meetings with the Tigers earlier this year.

“I think just hosting a conference tournament was a huge turnaround,” Berry said. “We’ve been talking about this since day one walking in here August and to actually be here, they have accomplished that. … Those girls here last year, they experienced it. They knew they didn’t want to see that again and here we are.”

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