Wildcats hitting stride on court but still working out the kinks

Warren County's Lauren Fox reaches for a hit as teammates Morgan Coons, left, and Jayda Saulsbury, right, look on during their Wednesday night match against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Warren County’s first-ever run to the VHSL Class 3 volleyball state championship in 2017 began with a 4-4 start to the season before the Wildcats picked up steam. There’s still a lot of volleyball to be played, but the Wildcats’ 2018 campaign has started on that same trajectory.

After opening the season with a tough slate of games against primarily Class 4 competition, Warren County has reeled off five straight wins to improve to 6-3 overall with its Northwestern District slate on the horizon next week.

“We’re at the point where we’re doing better than we did last year,” Wildcats senior middle hitter Lauren Fox said following Tuesday’s four-set win on Tuesday. “We have one more (win) than we did at this point (in 2017) because we beat Sherando (in five sets on Sept. 4). Mentally we’re a little bit behind because we have some transitioning to do with some teammates and players in spots, but I think we’re in a pretty good spot going into district play. We have a solid team with good girls who are good at their job and good at their position. I think we just need to work a little more on that mental toughness. And I think we’re almost there. We just need a little more time together.”

Those problems with mental sharpness emerged during Tuesday’s contest against the Rams. The Wildcats won the match 3-1 (25-17, 25-14, 22-25, 25-15) but were tested midway through when a sloppy third set ignited Strasburg in front of its home crowd.

Warren County, behind nine combined kills from Fox and fellow senior Kaley Foulks in the opening game, ran away from the Rams (5-5) in the first set and rode a slew of Strasburg errors in game two to an easy win and a 2-0 lead. Things got messy for the Wildcats from there.

Warren County's Kaley Foulks connects on a hit during Wednesday night's match against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

After building a 10-3 lead in the third game and seemingly on its way to its fourth sweep of the season, Warren County suddenly found itself trailing at the end of a 10-1 Strasburg run aided by a handful of unforced errors by the Wildcats and a quartet of Ram kills.

The score went back and forth over the second half of the set, with Strasburg eventually taking a 3-point lead late in the game after a Wildcat service error and a Daniella Henry block. Warren County committed two more errors over the final three points of the set, including Fox’s missed serve into the net that sealed the Rams’ 25-22 win.

The Wildcats missed four serves and committed seven attack errors in the third game alone, matching their total service/attacking errors from the first two sets combined.

“We were in our own heads,” Fox said. “We like having a big crowd obviously. We like having them out to support the other team and we want the same thing for us, it’s just sometimes the noise gets to you and just takes one thing and then you’re in your own head. I think it was really just mental toughness. We kind of gave that up in the game we lost, but we did a good job of getting it back.”

A rejuvenated Strasburg squad kept things tight for the first half of game four but Warren County flexed its muscle midway through, turning a slim 14-12 lead into a 25-15 win with an 11-3 run to close out the match.

Warren County's Brianna Hogan blocks a hit by Strasburg's Baylee Hodson during Wednesday night's match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Foulks, who led all players with 18 kills in the match, let a pair attacks rip to help broaden the gap in the fourth game’s second half, and Fox (11 kills, four blocks) capped the win with a block and back-to-back kills for the final points of the night.

“The fourth game they did pick it up,” said Wildcats head coach Dorinda Robinson, whose team missed just two serves and committed one attack error in the fourth game. “They knew we were very unhappy with the play in the third game. They just got a little, I don’t know, comfortable with the way things went the first two games, and just didn’t play as aggressive in that third game. They picked it up in the fourth game. The passing was much better, hitting choices were better.”

Senior setter Morgan Coons dealt 31 assists to lead Warren County’s offense, while junior Bri Hogan added three kills and four blocks.

Warren County begins district play next week in a home match against Culpeper County on Tuesday, but first the Wildcats host Rappahannock County, a former Bull Run District foe that they topped, 3-1, on the road last week, in a final non-district tune-up beforehand.

“Every win obviously is confidence for us, and some of these wins are easier than others, but we just need take all the positives and all the negatives from all these different games,” Coons said.

Warren County's Jayda Saulsbury goes up for a kill over Strasburg's Delainey Stickley during Wednesday night's match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I just think that we need to get back in the rhythm of this isn’t last year’s team,” she added. “We need to just pick it back up with the communication and the missed serves. It’s been a problem for us but we’ve normally always been strong at serving, so we’re just kind of getting in our heads, which it’ll be all right after that.”

Robinson added that the Wildcats are still trying to “find our way around some things” even during their recent winning streak.

“We definitely could be better in serve receive, we could be better in some of our defensive coverage, but we’re there and we’re not giving up,” Robinson said. “We’re gonna continue to fight. We had some tough matches with the Winchester schools and I think that helped us. Two of them we went five games with so I know that helped us stamina-wise and gave us a little confidence booster there. I think coming down the stretch it’ll be interesting to see how we start off with Culpeper. I know they’ve got some big girls up there.”

Warren County's Morgan Coons makes contact with ball during Wednesday night's match in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily