Colonel volleyball passes tough non-district test
WINCHESTER — James Wood volleyball coach Jill Couturiaux is always looking to upgrade her out-of-district competition.
With that in mind, Couturiaux took a tip from Musselman (W.Va.) coach Shawn Martz and got James Wood athletic director Craig Woshner to schedule North Hagerstown (Md.) for a match.
The Hubs, who won the Maryland Class 3A championship last fall and return three starters plus their libero, paid a visit to Donald H. Shirley Gymnasium on Monday night and offered just what James Wood was looking for.
And though they withstood late rallies in both the first and third sets by North Hagerstown to gain a 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 27-25) sweep, the Colonels (10-3) will take the kind of push they received and build off it.
“I was really proud with the way we played tonight,” said James Wood junior Ashley Hillyard, who contributed 10 kills and 25 assists in the win. “I thought we really brought it all around, offensively and defensively. They were a really great team and it’s nice to get the win against a team like that, knowing that they’re [defending] state champions. They’re really good.”
The Colonels tried their best to match the attacks the talented Hubs put up and also knew they had to have effective play from their back row to stay in contention.
Besides getting a match-best 20 kills from 6-foot-2 junior hitter Lindsey Painter, James Wood scrambled to keep rallies alive and force North Hagerstown (5-1) into making a high number of attack errors.
The Colonels had above-average effort with the block (seven players recorded at least a shared block) and got the spark it needed from junior Ally Iden (16 digs) and senior Brandi Griffith (team-best 17 digs) on defense.
North Hagerstown (just one ace in three sets) could not cause the Colonels any fits with serve-receive and with James Wood never facing a deficit until the early exchanges of the third set, momentum had a hard time finding the Hubs until late in sets.
Instead, the Hubs often found themselves out of sync on offense and watching James Wood play with more purpose most of the way.
“We didn’t pass well, then once we did we weren’t putting the ball where we needed to,” said North Hagerstown coach Megan Crawford. “They had a big block, and we pretty much had some unforced errors and missed serves.
“In the second set, I don’t know how many balls we hit out of bounds. We have no consistency. We’re either up or we’re down. We’re up or we’re down. It’s something we need to work on.”
The Colonels came out executing right from the start, just like they did exactly one week earlier to take the first set in a four-set loss Class 5A Briar Woods.
From the get go Painter brought the attack and opened with seven of James Wood’s 14 kills in the first set. Painter, who plays only on the front line, brought a downward swing that the Hubs found hard to contest.
James Wood led by as much as eight (20-12) following a Painter kill and had several seven-point leads in the set, the last one at 24-17 following a kill by Griffith.
The first set became hard to close out, and North Hagerstown earned all its points in a 5-0 run to draw within 24-22 and force Couturiaux to use a timeout.
The Colonels needed just one exchange out of the timeout to close the set out, getting a kill by Hillyard to go up a set.
Two kills from Painter, one from freshman Leilani Burch, and a shared block from Painter and freshman Taylor Heishman darted the Colonels out to a 4-0 lead to begin the second set.
The lead hit double-digits, at 15-5, after another kill by Griffith, but North Hagerstown used a 6-1 spurt to close to 18-13 off a kill from Mickey Moody (tied for team-best 11 kills).
On the next exchange, Hillyard made an off-balance attack off the far side that was deflected off a Hub defender and fell for a kill. An attack error by North Hagerstown followed, and sophomore Emma Montgomery (team-best five total blocks) slammed a Hubs’ attack at the net to make it 21-13 James Wood and force Crawford to use a timeout.
The Hubs fell behind by 10, closed to seven late, then could only watch as Hillyard got an impressive slam off the front for a kill and Montgomery closed it out with an ace to send James Wood up 2-0 in the match.
Painter (five) and Hillyard (three) combined for eight of James Wood’s 11 kills in the winning second set, and the Colonels continued to frustrate the Hubs with their all around play.
“We didn’t know what to expect from [North Hagerstown], other than they were Maryland state champs last year,” Couturiaux said. “We didn’t know how many [starters] they lost, but we knew they were going to put up a fight.
“I thought [North] Hagerstown was a good team, offensively. I really thought a lot of them swung at the ball and they tipped the ball.
“But, we had a lot of [solo] blocks tonight. We’ve just been focusing on our blockers, just getting to the attack quicker and reading the attack. Defensively, just being where we needed to be.”
The start of the third set saw North Hagerstown catch fire and roll off a 5-0 run to start things — providing it with the lead for the first time in the match.
Using her size and power, Zoe Schreiber got six of her co team-best 11 kills in the third set to give the Hubs some confidence.
North Hagerstown continued to get good sets from Sarah Bentley (match-best 29 assists) and Moody and several other Hubs found spots to drop attacks.
The Colonels caught up though, having their best set with kills (17 of their 42 came in the third set) and playing to their strengths.
Painter again lowered the boom, with eight kills in the set. Hillyard, who again teamed with younger sister and freshman Megan Hillyard (14 assists) to pace the Colonels’ 6-2 attack, sent a kill down the line to leave James Wood at match-point, ahead 24-21.
The Hubs stayed with it and took a 25-24 lead after a Colonel had an attack error from the back row. Couturiaux again called a crucial timeout, and the Colonels came back and finished things out.
The Hubs sent an attack into the net, Painter got her 20th kill (off an assist from Ashley Hillyard) down the line, and another attack error by the Hubs wrapped it up.
“I think it’s good to be in pressure-type situations like that,” Couturiaux said. “They focus on playing to win and not to lose.”
The Colonels host rival Sherando to open their Northwestern District portion of the schedule tonight. And not only are the Colonels glad they did not look ahead to tonight’s match, they are equally excited they will go into it coming off a quality win.
“I thought we had a couple good defensive plays and passes at the end,” Ashley Hillyard said. “I was really proud with how we played. We played really well tonight.
“We’ll be pumped to play Sherando. [The] first district match. We’ll be ready.”
Burch added support for the Colonels with five kills, and four different players (Griffith, Montgomery, Iden, and Savannah Yost) each had two aces for a service game that missed only five serves in three sets.