Wood volleyball sweeps Hawks
WINCHESTER — There was no way that the James Wood volleyball team was going to look past heavy underdog Skyline.
Facing a team they have not lost a set to since 2009, the Colonels traded exchanges early on with the Hawks during Thursday night’s semifinal round of the Northwestern District tournament before establishing a more consistent attack and putting the outcome to rest in short order.
Behind senior middle Erica Hepner’s 12 kills, James Wood topped Skyline 3-0 (25-14, 25-8, 25-15) at Maddex-Omps Gymnasium to advance to Saturday’s district title match against Handley, which defeated Sherando in the other semifinal match.
The Colonels (19-3) are eager to add some hardware to the district regular season title they won on Wednesday night in a four-set playoff win over the Judges. A win in the district final would be stage two of producing another team goal and prepping the team for next week’s Region II tournament.
“We were very focused because we have one goal — and that is to win,” said Hepner, who had just one attack error while compiling a match-best in kills and digs (10). “So we’re going to work really hard to get there.”
James Wood coach Jill Couturiaux was able to sit back and watch her entire team spread playing time around and play loose against Skyline (8-12), which snapped a six-match losing streak by beating Millbrook on Wednesday to get to the semifinals.
“I was really proud with how they performed and it’s always nice to get everybody from the team in,” Couturiaux said. “I think it shows the depth of our roster, that they all can contribute to a win. Kids want to play, and I thought the girls that came in off the bench did an excellent job for this team.”
To combat Skyline's knack for keeping rallies going with good hustle on the defensive end, James Wood showed no panic whenever a few of its attacks did not drop right away for kills. The Colonels stayed focused and consistent and gradually built big enough leads in all three sets to take care of business.
The Hawks had their best moments at the outset of the match, using a pair of dinks from senior Katara Edwards to build a trio of one-point leads after 15 exchanges. James Wood senior Tarah Wampler countered with a tap that fell to tie the set at 8-8, Hepner and sophomore Ashley Hillyard combined for a block, and Hepner had a kill for a two-point lead.
An attack error by the Hawks and another kill by Hillyard sent the run to five points and forced Skyline to use a timeout.
Not letting up once they returned to the floor, the Colonels continued to build their lead. A 9-2 run featured three kills and a solo block from sophomore Northwestern District Player of the Year Katie Houser, and James Wood doubled its lead late in the set to 22-11.
The Colonels got their 13th kill of the opening set for the set clincher, a kill to the back row by Brandi Griffith.
Getting good starts off attacks from Houser (11 kills and three aces in the win) and Hepner sparked James Wood right away. Houser and Hepner, a second-team all-district pick, each had four kills in the first set.
“[Skyline’s] a very scrappy team and they have a really good defense,” Hepner said. “We just had to push harder and hit it back. We found spots that were open and we kept pushing on the front line.”
For the second straight match, the Colonels held an opponent to single-figures in a set, dominating the second set to give every indication that a sweep was in store.
Just one day after winning at nine in the first set against Handley, James Wood had one of its best sets of the season by winning by 17 in the second set against Skyline.
Keyed by a 9-0 run in the set, the Colonels earned 16 of their first 17 points off either kills, aces, or a block. Two kills apiece by Wampler (six kills, two aces), Hepner, and Catherine Legge highlighted an 8-3 start to the set, which brought another timeout from the Hawks. James Wood continued to pour it on, as Houser and Hepner had two more kills during the mid-set run, and Savannah Yost dropped a kill for a 17-4 lead.
Late in the set, Couturiaux was subbing freely, even making use of first-time junior varsity callups Lexi Copley and Emma Montgomery. Almost as soon as they entered the match, Montgomery and Copley made their presence known. Montgomery had a kill and Copley did one better, dropping a kill for the clinching point.
James Wood’s attack produced 18 kills alone in the second set and just three attack errors. The onslaught would continue in the third set, as well. Hillyard (20 assists) and senior first-team all-district selection Emilee Payne (14 assists) were steady the entire way spreading the attack, and Houser, Wampler, and Hepner each had three kills in the clinching set to put an exclamation point on the victory.
An ace by Wampler sent the lead to 19-7 before Skyline rallied late to make the score in the set a little more respectable. The Hawks closed to six after Edwards got the last of her team-best seven kills, but James Wood scored the final four points to pull away. Copley had her third kill of the match and Yost got match-point with an ace.
The Colonels totaled 42 kills in the three sets, getting at least one kill from 11 different players. Hepner and senior first-team all-district libero Kelby Jackson took care of the defense, and a third newcomer from the junior varsity, Abby Prelip, got to play a defensive rotation late in the match.
“I feel like right now that this is probably the most focused that we’ve been,” Couturiaux said. “And it’s a good point [of the season] to be as focused as we are. This is the time that we need to be peaking as a team. Seeing how we’ve played the last two [matches], we’ll go into [practice] and fine tune a couple things and just come in prepared for Saturday.”
For Hepner, she also would like to see the Colonels continue to play their best and have a shot at competing well in the tough Region II playoffs that await the team.
“We want to push and make this season last as long as possible,” Hepner said. “We’re all really close and this is just like our family.”