Colonels ace final volleyball test against Judges

Posted: November 5, 2012

James Wood’s volleyball players celebrate after scoring against Handley in the Colonels’ 3-2 win over the Judges in the Northwestern District tournament championship game Saturday. The Colonels won 3-2 (24-26, 25-17, 25-14, 18-25, 15-10). (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
James Wood’s Katie Houser (back) tries to block Handley’s Rachel Dodson in the Colonels’ 3-2 win on Saturday. Houser had 23 kills, 13 digs and 10 aces in the victory. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — For long stretches of Saturday's Northwestern District tournament final, the Handley volleyball team was able to stay competitive with James Wood.

The Judges came out fired up and took the first set from the Colonels, bounced back with a fourth-set win to leave the outcome still in doubt, and had one of their best blocking efforts of the season to make James Wood work a little harder along the front line.

Trying to withstand the big serves of Katie Houser and several of her teammates proved to be too much to overcome, however.

The Colonels outlasted the Judges 3-2 (24-26, 25-17, 25-14, 18-25, 15-10) to gain a district sweep of awards (regular season and tournament titles) at a lively Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.

James Wood had at least four aces in four of the five sets and lowered the boom for 22 total in defeating Handley for the third time in four meetings and second time in four days.

“I think in the fifth set, they kind of got out to the serve-receive advantage — especially with Katie serving,” Handley coach Lindsay Hazelette said.

Houser, who blitzed the Judges for three straight aces during a crucial 5-0 run in the fifth set, finished the match with 10 aces. Getting three aces apiece from Kelby Jackson, Erica Hepner, and Ashley Hillyard bolstered James Wood and gave notice that the Judges could not relax when facing multiple on-target servers, as well.

“[Houser] very rarely misses, and I’ve always, from the time I started coaching, believed in aggressive serving,” James Wood coach Jill Couturiaux said. “It puts pressure on the other team’s passing and gets them out of a rhythm.”

The Colonels (20-3) were thrilled to finish up 4-0 on Handley’s home floor (they beat Handley three times and Skyline once) as they head into this week’s Region II tournament.

“I definitely feel like both teams were battling it out,” said Jackson, who again was a big key with her defense (18 digs). “It was our last [match, against each other] and we both wanted to prove ourselves. So, it's a strong rival and we just gave our heart and we put everything into it for our coach and our team. We really wanted this win.”

James Wood will host either Powhatan or Heritage on Tuesday in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal, while Handley (15-6) hits the road to face Western Albemarle Tuesday at 7 for the program’s first region match since 2003.

“This group of girls are very smart and very talented and they can rebound and be focused on regionals,” Hazelette said. “But the biggest thing is that this group has changed the Handley volleyball program and put it on the rise. They’ve taken pride and honor in that and they’re going to give it everything they have.”

Handley was back in the match after leading the entire way and taking a seven-point decision in the fourth set to even the match at two sets apiece. James Wood won serve to begin the fifth set and went on the aggressive in no time at all. Tarah Wampler began it with an ace, and a Handley attack error and kill from Houser quickly had the Colonels up 3-0. The teams traded points until a shared block by Semefa Tettegah and Rachel Dodson brought Handley to within 6-4. From there, James Wood got its service dominance rolling again and got a lead it could feel comfortable with.

Using excellent control, Houser crossed Handley up with a soft kill to the front line to return sideout to the Colonels. Heading back to the service line, Houser reeled off three straight aces, and a kill by Jackson off a dink sent the lead to 11-4 and brought a Handley timeout.

“We definitely had a plan for serving — when we came in, I mean, we knew where [on the floor] we were going to serve, what kind [of top-spin] we were going to do,” Houser said. “If you get them out of their rotation with passing, then you really can’t do anything [to counter defensively].”

A kill by Alexis Zygmunt brought the Judges some brief momentum once the teams returned to the floor, but Wampler sandwiched kills around an ace by Jackson to leave James Wood just a point from clinching the match.

The Judges refused to go away, rolling off five straight points behind three James Wood attack errors, an ace from Tettegah and a kill from Ana Ribeiro.

At 14-10, a good rally took place before Wampler ended things once and for all when she sent her spike down from the far side for the clinching kill.

“We came out strong and did everything we could,” Ribeiro said. “Unfortunately we lost it. Now we’ve got to focus on regionals and be ready for everything.

“When we play this [well] in five [sets], we see everything we can do. We proved to ourselves everything we can do. Playing five is not easy, and you’re devastated because it’s the end of the season, and you’re, like, tired, but you keep going. This match is going to help us get ready for regionals.”

Getting a better test from the Judges than they had earlier in the week was a welcomed challenge for the James Wood players. They saw how the Judges, who played their fourth straight match without senior outside Dierdre Carter (ankle), worked hard to be more active around the net and quicker on the back row to keep rallies alive. Handley showcased its desire to come out strong (it had lost the first set in its two previous home matches this week) and put together 12 kills to win a tight first set to gain momentum.

The attacks of Houser were hard to contest early, with the Northwestern District Player of the Year dropping kills to account for each of James Wood’s first five points. Still down 9-7 after a Houser ace, the Judges launched a 6-0 run. A kill by Emily Snow got the Judges to within one, and the Colonels followed by having three straight attack errors (one came of a block by Snow). An ace by Zygmunt and Ribeiro’s kill sent the lead to 13-9 and forced James Wood to use a timeout.

The set stayed close and James Wood slipped back ahead late, first at 22-21 of a Jackson ace and then at 23-22 following a Hepner kill. Ribeiro tied it with a kill, and the Judges were at set-point after Wampler could not stop her momentum off a James Wood attack and made contact with the net.

A ball-handling error by the Judges allowed the Colonels to tie it again, but Houser sent her spike long for James Wood’s 11th attack error of the set. This time, Handley converted set-point, with Zygmunt doing a fantastic job to place her attack along the near side for a kill.

“That’s what we were expecting,” Houser said. “Last time, they really didn’t show up and we knew they’d want to prove themselves this time. We knew what to expect, but we were making some errors and weren’t executing.”

The Judges got four kills apiece from Zygmunt and Ribeiro to move ahead 1-0 in the match. Overall, Zygmunt led the Handley attack with 10 kills, and Ribeiro had eight.

“I thought they had more shots today, versus just swinging,” Couturiaux said of the Judges. “I thought they went cross-court with the outsides. It took us a couple plays to adjust to it. They’ve always been a good blocking team, so that really wasn’t [anything] new. We’ve always tried to prepare them for the big block.”

Handley continued its good play into the second set, building several three-point leads before James Wood used two aces from Houser during a mini-run of 3-0 to take a 15-14 lead. A few exchanges later, the set was tied at 16 when the Colonels got rolling and closed strong to even the match.

Jackson and Ally Iden each had four-point service runs and Wampler had three kills to spark an 8-1 run to finish the set out. Wampler had five of her 14 kills in the second-set win and Houser, who led all hitters in the match with 23 kills, added four.

The Colonels had their most dominant set in the third, looking very much like the team that has played exceptionally well on the road (one loss) this season.

A kill by Ribeiro started the Judges off right, but James Wood got 12 of the next 14 points. All six of the aces complied by the Colonels in the set came within their first 12 points, including five over a seven-point stretch. Hillyard had three straight, and Houser added a kill and two more aces a short time later to move James Wood out to a 12-3 lead. The Colonels lead shot up to a high of 13 in the set, and Houser’s five kills and three from Wampler had James Wood thinking of a second-straight four-set win over its rival.

Handley had other plans, though. A shared block by Dodson (team-best six in the loss) and Alex Barnett got the Judges on their way and Alison Snow had an ace (the Judges had just four total in the match) during her opening 4-0 service run in the fourth set. An ace by Jackson later tied the set at 7-7, but a kill from Emily Snow on the next exchange gave Handley the lead for good. The set stayed close until the Judges closed with a 10-4 run, not allowing James Wood another kill after Houser recorded one to close James Wood’s deficit to 17-15.

The Judges spread nine kills around five players in their fourth-set win and had just two attack errors. The Colonels went into a brief slump again and did not do themselves a favor with 10 attack errors in the lost set.

“Handley definitely was strong with the block,” Jackson said. “They’ve been really strong blocking [all season] and they definitely were hustling on defense a lot more. They were putting up a fight. They didn’t want that ball to drop. They were working hard, too.”

But James Wood bounced back in a hurry and took the fifth set to send its record to 10-1 against Northwestern competition this season.

“We definitely want to keep going into regionals and just keep winning,” Jackson said. “Our next goal is to get to state. We don’t want our season to end.”

The Colonels also got 36 assists from Hillyard, six total blocks from Catherine Legge, 13 digs from Houser, and 15 digs from Iden.

“Two more wins and we get to take a trip down to VCU,” Couturiaux said of the site of the state Group AA tournament. “What an accomplishment that would be, but we’re going to take it one match at a time. We’ve got to prepare now for two different teams. We’re watching game film on Heritage and Powhatan and will to figure out who their big studs are and what their hitters tendancies are like.”

The Judges were led defensively by Ribeiro with 20 digs, Tettegah with 16 digs, and Allie Hoffman had 14 assists.