STEPHENS CITY — The Sherando volleyball team's start to the season was about as good as it could have hoped — just one set dropped in winning all three of its matches, including a sweep of defending Class 4 Northwestern District champion Fauquier on Wednesday night.
The Warriors hadn't faced a challenge quite like the one James Wood presented a day later while dealing Sherando its first loss of the season. The Colonels won 3-0 (25-20, 29-27, 25-18).
"[James Wood] had a lot more power than what we had as far as hitting," Sherando coach James Minney said. "Fauquier had some hitters, but not as many. When you got it coming in from all different directions, that makes it a little bit harder.
"They were mixing it up. They were tipping, they were throwing, they were hitting. That's something we haven't seen much of."
James Wood lost three players who combined for 444 kills last year, but the Colonels (3-0, 2-0 Class 4 Northwestern District) look like a team that could give opponents fits with the number of options it has.
Led by senior middle blocker Olivia Biggs' match-high 12 kills, the Colonels had four players with at least six kills and seven players with at least three kills against the Warriors. Biggs is the third player in three matches to lead James Wood in kills.
The Colonels were also led by junior right side Lainie Putt (nine kills), junior outside hitter Grace Frigaard (seven) and senior middle blocker Katherine Costin (six). Of those players, Frigaard (tied for 11th with 112 kills) was the only player who ranked among the area's Top 15 in kills last year.
"They all played a really good game," first-year James Wood head coach Jaime Terenzi said. "Whenever we got in a rut, it was our passing that kind of fell apart. Once they decided to flip that switch and the passing was good, we were able to put the ball down."
Sherando started strong in all three sets on Thursday, taking a 7-4 lead in the first, an 8-4 advantage in the second and a 6-3 lead in the third.
James Wood had at least four hitting errors in each set, but the Colonels were strong when it counted most.
"I definitely think we came together when it was crunch time," Biggs said.
Down 18-17 in the first set, senior setter Hanna Plasters (27 assists, four digs) fed Biggs for a kill to tie it, then Plasters made a wise decision from the floor and flicked the ball over the net for one of her four kills to give the Colonels the lead for good. Biggs added two more kills and Frigaard added a thunderous one down the middle off a Plasters assist on set point.
Junior outside hitter Kristyna Van Sickler (four kills) helped close out the set with three of her four aces.
"She usually has a different serve that she does, and she decided to go with a float, which is sometimes harder to pass," Terenzi said.
In the second set, James Wood almost collapsed in crunch time. The Colonels led 24-21 and committed a service error and a hitting error as Sherando reeled off four straight points. James Wood fought off two set points before pulling it out, with a Costin kill off a Katelyn Matthews assist and a Costin block closing out the set.
The Colonels also finished strong in the third set, scoring six of the last eight points after taking a 19-16 lead. Plasters had another nice flick kill to make it 24-18. On match point, an outstanding diving dig from Matthews led to Costin finishing the match with a blast down the middle.
"We started off slow, but we brought the momentum," Plasters said.
James Wood will face some stern tests this weekend as it looks to keep its momentum going in a tournament at Loudoun Valley.
But so far, the Colonels are definitely liking what they're seeing. James Wood lost all five of its Class 4 All-Northwestern District players from last year, but the Colonels have yet to drop a set while getting contributions from numerous sources in every match.
"A lot of our practices looked a lot like that second set, where they're playing back and forth with each other," Terenzi said. "We're going 28-26 in a six-on-six situation."
"I think we came in underestimated because of the loss of seniors," Biggs said. "But I'm very proud of how my team has come together."
Minney said Sherando has a lot to learn, but he couldn't fault the effort of his young team on Thursday. Seven of the Warriors' 13 players are sophomores.
"I was happy with their performance," Minney said. "We were there and were close with [James Wood]. That's all you can hope for right now. [Our team] could have folded at any time, but they didn't. They fought through it. That's a positive right off. I've had teams before where they would have just folded halfway through that second set and they would have blown us out in the second set and the third."
Minney said defense is an area that's going to have to come along if the Warriors hope to compete with a strong hitting team like James Wood.
Sherando senior Ashley Brown said the team's passing wasn't as strong as it had been in the team's first few matches.
"Usually our serve receive and defense in previous games has been really good," Brown said.
Though the Warriors suffered a tough loss Thursday, Sherando is enthusiastic about its potential after posting a losing record (10-11) last year.
"We definitely have younger people, but our hitting and defense is a lot better than last year," Brown said. "The younger kids have improved in coming to the varsity level. That's a positive."
Sherando was led Thursday by junior Madelyn See (four aces, three kills), sophomore Saige Garver (five kills, four aces) and junior Sabrina Armanca (three kills, three blocks).
"The team is getting more confident," Minney said. "We're learning and trying to pick things up."
Saturday: James Wood (at Loudoun Valley) and Handley (at Rock Ridge) will each compete in tournaments. The Colonels' opponents are Washington (W.Va.), powerful Musselman (six West Virginia state championships since 2008), Oakton and Westfield (Class 6 state quarterfinalist last year). The 0-3 Judges will look to pick up their first win of the year at the Class 5 school in Ashburn. ... Monday: Sherando at Jefferson (W.Va.), 7 p.m.; Millbrook (3-0) at Warren County, 7:15 p.m. ... Tuesday: James Wood at Fauquier, 7 p.m.; Sherando at Culpeper County, 7 p.m.; Clarke County at Berkeley Springs (W.Va.), 7 p.m.; Liberty at Handley, 7:15 p.m.; Millbrook at Kettle Run, 7:15 p.m. ... Thursday: Sherando at James Wood, 7 p.m.; Handley at Millbrook, 7:15 p.m.; Madison County at Clarke County, 7:15 p.m.