Rams edge Generals in five games in opener

Strasburg's Cassie Cooper goes up to block a shot that rolled over the net as Stonewall's Emily Ball, left, and Israel Blank right, look on during a volleyball match Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s volleyball team found itself locked in a back-and-forth affair with Stonewall Jackson in the season opener for both squads Tuesday night, and Rams senior Cassie Cooper said Strasburg’s success hinged on one important factor: enthusiasm.

Following the pattern they set in games one and three against Stonewall earlier in the match, the Rams countered a fourth-set loss with an energetic fifth to claim a 3-2 (25-16, 21-25, 25-14, 19-25, 15-8) victory over their Shenandoah County rivals.

“That’s just something that, for them, it’s just gonna be to practice keeping it up, because we’re young,” Rams head coach Suzanne Mathias said of Strasburg’s fluctuating enthusiasm. “… We’ve just talked about celebrating everything.”

Strasburg (1-0) had plenty to celebrate midway through the fifth set when the Rams used a key run in the decisive game.

With the score knotted at 5-all in the fifth game, Cooper notched a kill off an assist from junior Hannah Alexander to give Strasburg the lead for good. Strasburg senior Niki Funkhouser followed with her ninth ace of the night that handcuffed a defender along the back row, Alexander (14 assists) set up consecutive kills by Madison Foltz and Mikayla Kohlhaas and two Stonewall errors gave the Rams an 11-5 lead.

Stonewall's Madison Long goes up for a block against Strasburg's Madison Foltz during volleyball action Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

“When we hit we get excited, and when we get blocks we get excited,” said Cooper, who led the Rams’ attack with 10 kills, 15 assists and two aces. “It all starts with our passes, and they did really well.”

The Generals (0-1) cut the deficit to four after a Strasburg error and an ace by Madison Councill, but Rams libero Ashleigh Hockman served up her own ace to reclaim serve for Strasburg before Alexander’s kill secured the win.

“We were all communicating, we were all working together,” Cooper said. “That was the really big difference between each set. We would go from here to here, and then, I don’t know, that last set we just came together. We were playing as a team.”

Strasburg started the match off on a high note as eight different players contributed at least one ace or kill in the opening game, which ended with a 13-4 run for the Rams.

“When our passes are up and the setters put the ball on the net, we hit the ball well,” Mathias said. “I saw good things. Everybody got in tonight except for two that weren’t eligible to play tonight for other reasons. But overall I thought that they did a really good job talking and moving and helping each other out when they needed to.”

Stonewall's Juliana Brill concentrates on a hit during a Tuesday volleyball match against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Stonewall Jackson bounced right back to claim a win in game two with a key run of its own midway through the set. The score was tied 13-13 before Stonewall gained the lead for the final time on a Strasburg service error, the first of three Ram miscues paired with aces from Generals seniors Madison Long (team-high nine kills) and Emily Ball and a double block by Ball and sophomore Izzy Blank that gave Stonewall a 20-14 lead.

Strasburg rallied to cut the deficit to 21-19 before the Rams committed four errors over the final six points to even the match.

Stonewall Jackson head coach Lindsey Dinges said she was encouraged by the resiliency she saw from her team in the opener.

“Since I’ve taken over they’ve always blown us out 3-0, so to come out in a season opener and go five games with a county rival makes me happy, makes me confident,” Dinges said. “Makes me extremely confident compared to what I had last year. We are a team that normally rolls over and once we get beat it’s usually like a domino effect and three losses come in a row.”

Strasburg responded with a runaway 25-14 win in the third game, a set that saw freshman hitter Lauren Nofsinger smash a game-high four kills. Nofsinger finished with nine kills and two blocks in her varsity debut.

Strasburg's Cassie Cooper connects on a hit during a match Tuesday night against Stonewall. Rich Cooley/Daily

“As she gains confidence she’s only gonna get better,” Mathias said of the 5-foot-9 Nofsinger. “Tonight she had a good game. I thought we did a good job at the net, staying and blocking. Just being persistent.”

Led by Long’s three kills and a pair of aces from junior Juliana Brill, the Generals forced a decisive fifth game with a 25-19 victory in game four. Stonewall failed to record an ace, kill or block after back-to-back kills by Ball and Long gave the Generals an 18-10 lead in the set, but Stonewall was helped out by 14 Strasburg errors in the frame.

Blank finished with six kills and three blocks for Stonewall, while Brill had six aces and 19 assists for the Generals.

Both teams return to action on Thursday, with Strasburg hosting Page County and Stonewall Jackson traveling to Rappahannock County.

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

Strasburg's Lauren Nofsinger goes up over Stonewall's Israel Blank for a kill during a volleyball match Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily