Wood volleyball edges Judges in 5 sets
WINCHESTER — Big hits in front of a spirited crowd aren’t just for Friday night football anymore after James Wood and Handley met in a battle of unbeaten Northwestern District volleyball teams Tuesday night.
The Colonels and Judges traded their best shots through a five-set thriller but James Wood maintained its poise in front of the Judges’ boisterous “Loud Crowd” student section to pull out a 3-2 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 16-25, 15-12) district victory at Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.
James Wood sophomore Katie Houser led the Colonels with a match-high 29 kills, including five in the fifth and deciding set.
“We didn’t doubt ourselves, and we knew we could come back,” said Houser, who also added five aces. “We just focused one point at a time and we came back.”
The Colonels (12-2, 4-0 district) moved into sole possession of first place in the district with their fifth-straight victory and snapped a season-high seven-match winning streak by Handley (9-3, 3-1).
With the Judges’ student section to their left, the Colonels needed to focus even more in the decisive fifth set with Handley’s home fans providing a spirited homecourt advantage.
“It was very tough,” James Wood coach Jill Couturiaux said of playing in front of Handley’s student section. “I kept telling my girls to focus on the match and not the [Handley’s] Loud Crowd because that’s what they’re there for. They’re there to distract you and to get you to take your mind off the game. They did a good job with that, but I feel like my players focused when it was the most crucial time.”
After the Judges jumped out to an early 4-1 advantage in the fifth set, Houser put the Colonels ahead for good with a kill followed by an ace to put James Wood ahead 6-5.
The Colonels kept that one-point advantage until a kill by Erica Hepner put Wood ahead 10-8. James Wood senior Tarah Wampler (nine kills, four aces) followed with an ace, getting the point when the head referee overruled a linesman’s call after Wampler’s serve was initially ruled out.
With an 11-8 lead, Ana Ribeiro’s kill cut Wood’s advantage to two, but Houser answered with a kill of her own to put the Colonels ahead 12-9 to force Judges coach Lindsay Hazelette to call for a timeout.
After the break, the Colonels’ defense kept the momentum when sophomore defensive specialist Ally Iden dug a rocket shot by Handley outside hitter Dierdre Carter. Carter’s spike nearly put Iden on the floor, but she kept the point alive and the Judges hit the return into the net to give James Wood a 13-9 advantage.
“Emilee Payne, our setter, told me to back up and I just listened to her,” said Iden, of her dig on Carter’s spike. “It felt great. It was awesome.
“We were kind of psyched out about it because we knew [Handley] hit hard. But once we got out there we just went for everything.”
From there Houser finished it off, powering a kill that the Judges returned into the net for match point at 14-9.
A service error and a net violation by the Colonels followed by a kill by Carter cut James Wood’s lead to 14-12, but Houser ended it, leaping high for a kill only to tip it with a finesse shot over the Judges’ front row on the fourth match point.
“Dierdre’s [hitting] is crazy,” Houser said. “I’m so proud of my friend Ally. She made this amazing dig that was definitely a turning point in the fifth set. If we hadn’t gotten that it could have ended a lot differently.”
The Colonels’ win in the fifth set was their first on that side of the court in front of the Judges’ student section.
James Wood dropped the second set (20-25) and fourth set, committing 10 errors in a 25-16 Handley win.
In the third set, the Colonels let a 19-15 advantage slip away after committing three errors followed by an ace by Handley junior Semefa Tettegah.
After a James Wood timeout with the match knotted at 19, the Colonels reeled off six straight points, getting a block and a kill from Houser and a kill and an ace on set point from Wampler.
“The third set is key to win because it just takes pressure off you a little bit,” Couturiaux said. “You can kind of relax and not play with the mind-set of not making a mistake. In volleyball there are a lot of mistakes that are made and you just never want your team to be playing with that added pressure of having to win a set.
“We made a few ball-hitting mistakes, but I don’t want to take anything away from Handley. Handley’s offense was tremendous [Tuesday], and they also played really good defense against us.”
While Houser led Wood’s attack, Handley’s hitting was spread evenly between Ribeiro (14 kills) and Carter (13 kills). Handley junior setter Allie Hoffman had 22 assists, and senior teammate Alison Snow added 20 assists.
“I felt like we’re both equal teams,” said Handley senior Alex Barnett, who had three kills and three blocks. “It could have been either of us [winning] tonight.”
Houser started the match with three kills and three aces, helping the Colonels jump out to an early 11-2 advantage in the first set. James Wood led throughout the opening set, but Handley fought back, cutting the Colonels’ lead down to one after an ace by Ribeiro made it 15-14. James Wood’s lead was never less than two the rest of the way, but Hazelette was proud of her team’s effort throughout the match.
“All the way around it was a good match on both sides of the net,” Hazelette said. “The momentum just switched in that fifth game. We weren’t getting the sets right where we wanted to our hitters and our serve-receive was a battle for us during the night. Both teams kind of fought their best and it will be a good matchup the next time we see them.”
The Judges won’t face the Colonels until the final match of the regular season on Oct. 25.
“Now we play them at home on Senior Night,” Couturiaux said. “The whole team will be playing for [our seniors]. I know [Handley] will bring its best game.”
Payne led the Colonels with 41 assists, and senior libero Kelby Jackson added a team-high 22 digs.
Couturiaux said her team’s back row did a nice job handling the Judges’ attack.
“Our libero [Jackson] and our back row did a tremendous job passing tonight,” Couturiaux said. “Without that passing, no one’s hitting so I thought we had good ball control.”
— Contact Robert Stocks at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1