SVCA falls in five-set thriller

STEPHENS CITY – Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy volleyball standout Hannah Berger hammered home 14 kills Tuesday in the second game of her team’s dramatic 3-2 loss to visiting Cumberland Valley Christian School of Pennsylvania. So the opposing team got smart.

“We served around her,” said Cumberland Valley coach Carole Rosenberry. “We had seen her before and knew what she was capable of, so we just decided to work around her.

“The key is not to give her chances to make passes, because if she makes passes she can run the offense and they’ll get it back to her.”

Indeed, the Patriots did just that in the Mason-Dixon Christian Conference matchup, even though the Blazers prevailed 25-13. 18-25, 25-16, 20-25 and 15-12 in five sets.

Berger, who recently committed to Division III school Messiah College, was prolific on her home floor, powering 23 spikes, three aces and seven blocks. But when Cumberland Valley (3-4 conference, 3-4 overall) went away from her, the visitors took advantage of their hosts.

“We try to get everybody involved, not just one person. We have good hitters up and down our lineup, so the idea is always to get the ball outside,” said senior setter Nikki Taylor. “Sometimes (Berger) is on the backline, so she can’t spike it from there.”

Certainly Berger got her share. Her big effort in game two tied the overall struggle at a game apiece. Particularly in the first, third and fourth sets the Blazers seemed to force shots from other Patriots.

In game one, Berger scored three kills and two blocks, which is still a full statistics line for some players.

After losing the initial foray by the score of 25-13, SVCA coach Elie Wheelock directed her attention to Berger, and how her team could get the senior the ball.

Her team had scored four consecutive points toward the end of game one, and there was reason to believe that more would be in store for Wheelock, the Patriots (2-7, 4-8) and their fans.

That came in the second set where SVCA assumed a 10-3 lead. Six of those 10 tallies came via Berger slams.

At 14-6, Berger had scored half the Shenandoah Valley Christian points.

Rosenberry called timeout to no avail. SVCA led 17-8 before the visitors could cook up something.

The Blazers scored four straight points to narrow the advantage to 17-12. After winning seven of eight scores throughout the run it was 18-15, Patriots.

Cumberland Valley Christian kept it at three, 21-18, but two unforced errors and kills for Berger and Susanna Green (six total kills) gave the set to the home team for a 1-all game tally.

The Blazers tightened up their defense in game three and held Berger to two kills. They seemed to improve their returns.

After four ties, Cumberland Valley took it upon itself to outscore Shenandoah Valley 8-1 to make it 19-12 when Wheelock called timeout.

It mattered little to the Blazers, who expanded their lead to 21-14 on the way to a 9-point victory.

Down a set (2-1), the Patriots battled the Blazers in game four. After four ties and two lead changes, SVCA felt more comfortable with a 9-5 lead on kills by Green and Abigail Lynch and two unforced errors on Cumberland.

Trailing 16-11, the Blazers went on the offensive for a four-point swing. An ace and various errors on the Patriots set the score at 16-15.

SVCA’s final 1-point lead set at 19-18, but it got busy from there. A fault and out-of-bounds call on Cumberland and an ace by Kaleigh Strawderman made it a 22-18 lead for the Patriots, who won the set 25-20 and even the match at two games apiece.

Berger returned to form in game five, supplying three kills, a block and an ace, although the remainder of the SVCA was slow in coming around.

Cumberland Valley jumped out ahead 10-4, but Shenandoah Valley caught up with six consecutive scores. Berger notched a kill and two aces along the way. It was 10-all.

The visitors assumed one point leads at 11-10 and 13-12 before earning the match at 15-12.

“We have good servers for the most part,” said Rosenberry.

While SVCA out-did their opponents in kills (32-22), the Blazers served 19 points to 6 for the Patriots.

“They did a good job hitting their spots on serves,” said Wheelock.

“I think we’re hitting pretty well. We’ve just got to improve our mental game. When we get down a point or two, we tend to lose confidence.”