Millbrook overpowers Sherando in four sets

STEPHENS CITY – Winning one set may not mean much but when your team is struggling Sherando High School (1-5 Northwestern District, 1-6 Conference 21 West and 5-10), you take what you can get.

Particularly if you are a senior waiting for a team to mature.

That was the situation Tuesday night for a pair of veterans as district/conference power Millbrook High School’s volleyball team (6-0 district, 7-0 conference, 16-1) powered past Sherando 3-1 at the Warriors’ gymnasium.

The victory by Millbrook, currently cruising along undefeated in district and conference play, was the second straight for one of the Frederick County schools (the Pioneers) over the other, and thus represented a sweep.

But for one set at least, Sherando could celebrate as Millbrook took the 25-12, 22-25, 25-11 and 25-15 match.

“It meant a lot to us as seniors because Millbrook is very good and we got a set from them,” said Sherando senior Alaina Paige.

The visiting Pioneers have now won 16 straight matches since an opening season loss to Riverside (a 3-2 defeat) way back on Aug. 23 in their first match of the season.

On top of that, until Tuesday, Millbrook had only lost six sets total in 17 matches this season.

“Their front row is strong, but we battled in the second set because we were getting the ball up. The second set was our strongest because of our passing and communication,” said Paige.

It was just a matter of Millbrook being that much better on this night.

True, Sherando has extended Northwestern District second-place team, James Wood, to five sets and now, having lost the first time around to Millbrook by a 3-0 score, they have taken at least one from the district/conference leader.

Conference standings are peculiar because only one game of this season’s two-match showdowns actually counts in the standings, leading into postseason play, but this was the one that counted for both teams.

“We knew this was a conference match,” said Millbrook junior Alexis Weir, “I think that inspired us tonight.”

Having won the first set by double figures, Millbrook rebounded from the second set setback (25-22 the Warriors’ way) to notch 25-11, 25-15 victories.

“It was one of (Weir’s better games),” said Pioneer coach Carla Milton.

Having been shut out from the scoring line in set one, Weir, a middle hitter, cracked that barrier with five kills and three blocks in set three and added five additional slams and three blocks in the match-deciding fifth set.

But Weir was not the only one scoring points for the Carolina visitors.

Milton and Millbrook got points from six of the team’s 11 members. One of the Pioneers, Savanna Pearson, was in street clothes and on the bench for this tussle.

Otherwise, freshman Victoria Johnson (14 kills, two aces and one block), senior Emily Cleveland (seven kills, five aces and one block) and sophomore Abigail Koeller (12 kills, six blocks) peppered the black-clad Sherando players’ defense.

“I thought, to play against a talented Millbrook team, we played pretty well. But with their frontline there is only so much we can do. We can only defend so long, but, sooner or later, they’re going to find their spots. And that’s what they did,” said Sherando coach James Minney.

The Warriors have lost four straight, but it should be noted that those quartet of setbacks came to Millbrook (twice), Handley and James Wood-Winchester-Frederick County schools, all of which are ahead of the Warriors in the Northwestern District.

“I think what we would hope to do is sneak into the conference and then win at least one game and see where we are,” said Minney.

Sherando has a visit to the Northwestern’s Skyline, Turner Ashby; district/conference competitor Handley and Martinsburg, West Virginia, ahead to close the season.

“We’re hoping to use (the one-set win against Millbrook) to our advantage,” said Sherando senior Melissa Gaudette.

Gaudette is a special case. In her last year at Sherando, she has struggled through knee problems this season after missing most of the 2015 campaign with a stress fracture.

Nonetheless, she and Paige were at their best in set two of their match against Millbrook.

Down 0-1, the two seniors rallied their youthful teammates to tie the match at 1-apiece.

“We’ve been competitive, we’ve just been struggling lately to knock someone off,” said Gaudette.

Sherando found itself down in set two, 7-1, when it caught a wave of momentum.

After a Minney-called timeout, the Warriors tallied five straight points to trail the Pioneers by just a point.

Paige started off the rally with a block, which resulted in a kill, and then watched as her opponent began making errors.

A MacKenzie Cornwell kill tied the match at 9-all.

There would be three ties and three lead exchanges between the squads before Sherando spread it to a 15-12 lead on a kill by Gaudette and a net error by Millbrook.

When the 6-foot-1 veteran either blocked or scored a point, her team lit up and brought the home crowd back into the game.

The Warriors kept either a 1- or 2-point advantage through the next eight points until a kill by Pioneer Koeller tied the second set at 19 points apiece.

Two kills by Sherando’s Liz Dolsen put the Warriors ahead 21-19.

A net error subsequently gave them a 3-point advantage, 23-20.

Then it was Milton’s turn for a timeout.

Even so, Gaudette’s kill made it 24-20 and Sherando held on for the 3-point win.

Obviously inspired, Millbrook jumped ahead 6-2 in set three on an ace by Cleveland.

It doubled its lead to 12-4 and kept scoring until the Pioneers reached another double-figure advantage, 16-6.

There was little Sherando’s younger athletes could do as Johnson and Weir cannoned kills and the Warriors made mistakes.

Cruising ahead 16-6, the Pioneers merely overpowered the Warriors on their way to the 14-point third set victory.

The end would come quickly as Millbrook shot ahead by eight, nine and 10-points in set four.

The Pioneers closed out the match on a kill by Koeller.

“Slowly, but surely, I think our younger players are coming around,” said Gaudette, who playfully slapped hands with all her teammates as they came out for the third set.

“We passed well (in set two), we were more competitive. We took James Wood to five sets (on September 16) and then got the one tonight. We just have to keep playing,” said Minney.