STEPHENS CITY — Trailing 17-15 on Thursday night to Sherando, the Millbrook volleyball team was in danger of losing the first set for the second time in three days.
During a timeout at that point, Pioneers coach Carla Milton kept her message simple.
“We needed to get a good pass of serve receive and just run our offense,” Milton said. “We just needed to pick up our play all the way around. I thought we did that as the match went on.”
The Pioneers certainly did. A hitting error out of the break extended the Warriors’ lead to 18-15, but Millbrook took the lead for good with a 6-1 run to make it 21-19.
One of Sherando sophomore hitter Saige Garver’s team-high 10 kills made it 21-20, but Millbrook closed the set with a 4-1 run.
At the end of the match, the Pioneers won 3-0 by the scores of 25-21, 25-17, 25-10 to improve to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Class 4 Northwestern District. Millbrook ended its match against Fauquier on Tuesday in similarly strong fashion, winning the last three games by 14, 10 and 11 points.
The Pioneers’ play at the net on Thursday was one of the reasons for Millbrook’s success. Millbrook had 21 blocks, with senior middle hitter Jordan Weir recording nine and freshman opposite Madison Koeller picking up four.
One of Weir’s blocks came in that 4-1 run to close the first set. The area block leader (43) was particularly impenetrable to start the third set when Millbrook broke out to a 7-1 run. She contributed four blocks in that stretch.
Weir said the fact that she usually had a teammate next to her when she left her feet to challenge Sherando’s spikes aided her greatly.
“I felt [my blocking] was better than other nights,” Weir said. “It definitely helped, my pins setting the blocks right. That really helped me get there on time and size up the other hitters.”
Milton said she liked what she saw at the net. Millbrook senior outside hitter Tori Johnson (13 kills, 11 digs) ended the second set with a block.
“We’re getting our hands on a lot of balls right now,” Milton said. “If we’re not putting them down [for points], then we’re at least slowing balls down for our defense to get a pass off it. That helped our game out all the way around.”
Sherando coach James Minney said the Pioneers’ defensive next play applies pressure.
“They get their hands on a lot of balls,” Minney said. “They did really well with that. I think that intimidated some of our players. In the third set, we tried to start hitting around the block, and we’re not ready to do hat.
“I’ve always said that if you can’t practice and mimic the team you’re playing then it’s hard to beat them in a match. We can’t mimic them. We don’t have that type of height and we don’t have that type of hitting.”
Millbrook’s deep setting core is also adding to the team’s effectiveness. Millbrook has three players with at least 90 assists. Team-leader Koeller (127 for the season) had 11 assists last night, sophomore Autumn Stroop (101) had a team-high 14. Skylar Johnson had 88 coming into Thursday.
With three players capable of setting, Millbrook can move players around more and keep opponents on their toes. As evidenced by Thursday, the 5-foot-11 Koeller can be a brick wall at the net (she’s second to Weir on the team in blocks with 16), and Skylar Johnson (nine kills, nine digs Thursday) is an excellent attacker whose 73 kills rank second only to her older sister Tori’s area-best 148.
“It’s tremendous having three setters that we use every single night,” Milton said. “Sometimes all three of them are on the court at the same time.”
Skylar Johnson said Millbrook’s setting versatility is definitely a great weapon to have. There were multiple situations where the Pioneers had to scramble just to keep the ball up on Thursday, and Millbrook was able to establish its attack smoothly because a dig just happened to result in the ball going to one of its stellar setters.
“It helps a lot to switch up things and confuse other teams,” she said. “A lot of other players can play a bunch of different positions. I can play outside and right side and set. Other teams don’t always see that coming. Even sometimes we don’t see it coming.”
SherandoOn Thursday, Minney was particularly pleased with the first set and thought the second set went well, but he did not like the third set. He said the Warriors (6-4, 3-3) are still working toward putting together a complete match. Minney thought the team showed a lot of cohesion and communication early on.
“One of the things we’re trying to focus on, win or lose, is consistency,” Minney said. “If we had been consistent throughout, we might have taken a set, but we weren’t consistent enough. Baby steps. We’re young. I thought they did well the first two sets, we just need to continue to carry through the whole match right now.”
Garver said she also liked the chemistry the Warriors displayed in the beginning of the match.
“I think that we worked really hard and we played really well together,” Garver said. “I think we communicated a lot better and worked really well together.
“I think [Millbrook] was a difficult team to play. I think with more work, we can really put a fight up against them. They do have a good defense, and that made us work harder.”
Though Minney noted that Sherando struggled with its attack in the third set, the Warriors did well to put the ball down in the first. Garver had five of her 10 kills in that set, including two in the Warriors’ 5-0 run that gave Sherando an 18-15 lead. Madelyn See (two aces) had two of her five kills.
“Saige has come a long way since the beginning of tryouts,” Minney said. “Erica Dirnagl, who played years ago for me, has worked a lot with Saige and has done a great job with her. Saige, the power’s there. She just has to learn some things and learn how to alter her steps, but she’s doing a great job.”
Clarke CountyClarke County dropped to 0-3 in Bull Run District play on Thursday with a 3-1 (12-25, 26-24, 25-22, 26-24) loss to Rappahannock County in which the Eagles (3-3 overall) actually won six more points than their opponent.
The new-look Bull Run District (four of the eight teams are new) is proving challenging, but in a phone interview on Wednesday second-year Eagles coach Barbara McCauley said there was a lot to be encouraged about with her team’s play this year.
“We’re doing well overall, we’re just putting the pieces together to make them all work cohesively at the same time,” McCauley said. “Our hitting has improved, our passing has improved. We’re just trying to get those to all happen at the same time.”
McCauley said when the team does match evaluations, they do a good job of figuring out what they need to improve, and they fix it. McCauley said it helps that her players are now in the second year of her system, so they’re more comfortable with McCauley’s coaching techniques.
“I feel like the girls are starting to really grasp everything,” McCauley said. “This year I don’t have to go over the things I told them about last year. This past summer, we had a camp, and it was amazing how much they listened. [The returning players] were teaching girls all the things [the coaching staff] had taught them.”
On Thursday, Clarke County was led by Sara Murray (seven kills), Abigail Peace (six kills, five blocks), Liz Wallace (six kills, six aces), Hannah Trenary (six kills), Bella Stem (six kills), Jessica Fikac (16 digs) and Alyssa Hoggatt (35 assists). That was a continuation of Clarke County’s balanced effort this year.
“I think everybody’s stepping up,” McCauley said Wednesday. “Everybody’s kind of doing their part now. This has been a great year because everybody wants to work hard and contribute to the team. We have such positive practices. It’s been a good experience.”
Week aheadThe highlight of the week comes Thursday when the only two teams unbeaten in Class 4 Northwestern District play collide at 7 p.m. at Millbrook. Visiting James Wood is 6-0 in the district.
The rest of the schedule: Monday — James Wood at Skyline, 7 p.m.; Clarke County at Jefferson (W.Va.), 7 p.m.; Riverside at Millbrook, 7:15 p.m. Tuesday — Liberty at James Wood, 7 p.m.; Millbrook at Culpeper County, 7 p.m.; Sherando at Kettle Run, 7 p.m.; Fauquier at Handley, 7:15 p.m.; Clarke County at Stonewall Jackson, 7:15 p.m.. Wednesday — Strasburg at Clarke County, 7:15 p.m. Friday — Handley at Sherando, 7 p.m.