Wildcats taking positives from tough schedule

Warren County's Brianna Hogan, center, goes up for a kill between James Wood's Kristyna Van Sickler, left, and Jessica Putnam, right, during Thursday night's volleyball game against James Wood in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County has a brutal schedule to start the season, but the Wildcats definitely could take some real positives away from their four-set loss to James Wood on Thursday night.

Warren County, the Class 3 state runners-up last year, played Class 4 state semifinalist Millbrook on Tuesday and followed that up with its home opener against a solid Class 4 James Wood squad.

Down two games to none on Thursday, the Wildcats played a strong third set and pushed the match against the Colonels to four. The Colonels responded to close out a 25-20, 25-18, 19-25, 25-17 victory, but the Wildcats were left with reason to smile at how they had played.

“I thought we played with a lot more energy than we did Tuesday night against Millbrook,” Warren County coach Dorinda Robinson said. “I made a few defensive changes and I think that helped a lot. I think the energy was there and bodies were on the floor and it was good.”

Even in the first two sets, the Wildcats were able to stay close to the Colonels. Warren County led 6-4 in the opening set behind three kills from senior hitter Kaley Foulks to start the match.

Warren County's Morgan Coons is met by James Wood's Kristyna Van Sickler at the net during Thursday night's volleyball game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

However, the Wildcats didn’t lead again until the third set. The players said that they were a lot more positive against James Wood than they had been in a three-set loss to Millbrook.

“I saw improvement in our attitudes toward the game,” Warren County senior hitter Lauren Fox said. “We worked really well together. I don’t think we so much get mad at each other as much as we do at ourselves. And I think people did a really good job of keeping their heads up for themselves tonight. Compared to how we played Millbrook, we didn’t let the other team intimidate us. Whenever they did get those big hits we came back and attacked them with our own big hits.”

The third set went back and forth early on, but the Wildcats slowly began to build a lead. A block by Fox and a kill by Jayda Saulsbury gave the Wildcats an 11-7 edge. The Colonels were able to cut the lead to one, 14-13, but back-to-back kills by Foulks extended the lead and Warren County kept the momentum the rest of the set.

Another kill by Foulks, who had eight of her team-high 16 kills in the set, and an ace by Saulsbury sealed the set for the Wildcats.

“I would like to say that it felt amazing, but I know we can play that well,” Fox said. “I have that expectation out of each of my teammates that we’re going to come out and play like that.”

Warren County's Jayda Saulsbury is met at the net by James Wood's Gillian Kleiderlein, left, and Katherine Lever, right, during Thursday night's volleyball game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Foulks said it felt especially good for her to see Warren County take a set off of James Wood because she used to play travel volleyball with a lot of James Wood’s players.

“Just knowing that my team that’s never really played travel together is good enough to take a set off of girls that do play travel together – I think it says something,” Foulks said.

The Colonels built an early lead in the fourth set and held on for the win. Last year the Wildcats were swept by both Millbrook and James Wood and despite some early-season losses went on to have a historic season.

Robinson said she likes playing against really good competition and believes it will help her team throughout the season.

“I think in the long run it will make us better playing against good quality teams,” she said. “It will make us work harder. And we learn from the mistakes that we’re making and that will help us down the stretch.”

Warren County's Jada Saulsbury, left, and teammate Nicole Sayre, right, dive for the ball during Thursday night's volleyball game against James Wood in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Wildcats have six players returning from last year’s squad, but also have plenty of new faces they are trying to mix in.

Foulks said she believes the younger players are fitting in with the team really well.

“Our underclassmen are definitely taking roles, taking big roles,” Foulks said. They’re filling big shoes from last year. I think they’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Fox had eight kills and three blocks and Warren County senior setter Morgan Coons had 34 assists in the victory over the Colonels. Junior Brianna Hogan added five kills and senior Nicole Sayre had 13 digs. Saulsbury and Foulks added six digs each.

The Wildcats (0-2) return to action next Tuesday against Strasburg and then play two more Class 4 teams – Handley and Sherando – after that.

Fox said that the tough early-season schedule should give the team more confidence as they take on more Class 4 teams in the next few weeks.

“These are some really good teams. We’re going to play other really good teams,” Fox said. “But I think getting these harder games out of the way is going to show us that, like (Thursday), we have the ability to do what we want to do. And we just need to know that we have that ability.”