WINCHESTER — On Tuesday, James Wood needed to dig deep to win the first two sets by just two points in a win over Kettle Run.
In their Dig Pink match on Thursday at Shirley Gymnasium, the Colonels started slow but got stronger as the match went on to complete a season sweep of Handley. James Wood won in three sets by the scores of 25-19, 25-16 and 25-9 to improve to 17-2 overall and a perfect 12-0 in Class 4 Northwestern District play.
James Wood had four attack errors and four service errors in the first set, and the Colonels saw a 19-10 whittled down to 19-16 after Handley’s Lindsay Pifer served her fourth consecutive ace.
“I think our rhythm was a little off at the beginning,” said James Wood senior middle blocker Katie Costin, who had a kill off a ball returned over the net to close out the first set. “Once we started to work together on every single play, we got together as a team and really pulled it out.”
Handley continued to battle after losing that first set. But a blast from junior outside hitter Kristyna Van Sickler (eight kills, five digs) made it 13-9 Colonels and helped send James Wood on its way to the second-set win. Handley initially bumped Van Sickler’s spike off the ceiling, then had its second hit go out of bounds after scrambling to get the ball.
Van Sickler — the cousin of former James Wood and Shenandoah University baseball standout Greg Van Sickler — played a role in a typically balanced James Wood effort from its front row in the second set. Van Sickler, junior right side Lainie Putt, senior middle blocker Olivia Biggs and junior outside hitter Grace Frigaard had three kills each in the second set.
Katey Matthews (13 assists, five digs) and Hanna Plasters (10 assists, two aces) set them up.
“Our setters are doing really great,” Van Sickler said. “We’re working a lot on hitting during practice, and it’s working really well, especially with our passing. Everything stems from passing. As soon as we get a good pass, that means we can get a good set, that means we can get a good swing.”
The Colonels had only three attack errors in the final two sets.
James Wood’s defense at the net was also impressive Thursday.
Costin had four blocks, including one to put the Colonels up 23-8 in the third set after being denied on a couple of spike attempts.
Earlier in the third, Matthews was in the back row when a spike zoomed toward her neck area. She threw up her arms and deflected the ball cross-court to the left and over the net, where it dropped just inside the line at the midpoint of the Judges’ side of the court to make it 21-8. Not much later, Plasters finished the match with an ace and James Wood ended yet another district match with smiles on their faces.
“[Towards the end of the first set], they started playing more consistent,” James Wood head coach Jaime Terenzi said. “I think it was a very even-keeled match. It didn’t have a lot of highs and lows. It was a good night.”
HandleyJudges coach Lindsay Cole said she was pleased with her team’s competitiveness at the outset of Thursday’s match. Last week, Handley dropped the first two sets against Liberty before rallying for a 3-2 win, and Millbrook stormed out to an 18-3 lead in the first set of its 3-0 win over the Judges.
“This is like the first [match] all season where we really came out of the gates in the first game, so that’s an improvement for us,” Cole said. “Our players fought hard. We were doing good things on defense, but we just couldn’t get a block up on any of their hitters.
“As a team, I think we’ve improved greatly throughout the season. I thought we hung with them for most of the night, and we can take [a performance like this] into the district tournament. We’re very young, but I don’t think we’re playing young anymore. We’re getting wiser with our decisions and doing great things on the court.”
Handley was led on Thursday by Emilie Pifer (eight kills), Lindsay Pifer (eight kills, four aces) and Mya Swiger (15 digs).
Emilie Pifer’s performance came on the heels of Tuesday’s effort against Culpeper County in which she had 15 kills, 10 digs and seven aces.
“She’s stepped up this season,” Cole said. “Last year as a sophomore she was only playing front row for us, and now she’s a six-rotation player. She definitely leads by example. The girls really look to her for that go-to point.”
Needed battleDespite some struggles on Tuesday, James Wood felt its match with Kettle Run will serve the team well as it gears up for the stretch run of its schedule. The Colonels play Maryland’s Williamsport (9-3-1) on Monday, Liberty on Tuesday, and then play Millbrook (11-1 in district play) at Shirley Gymnasium on Thursday.
The Colonels won the first two games by the scores of 27-25, 26-24 against the district’s third-place team in Kettle Run (8-4 district) before winning the third game 25-18.
Fauquier scored 22 points in a set against the Colonels on Oct. 8, but outside of that James Wood hadn’t really been tested since its five-set win over Millbrook on Sept. 26.
“In that [Kettle Run match], I think we just weren’t working together as well as we have been in past matches,” Costin said. “Our defense wasn’t really clicking, but by the end, we came together and kind of fixed that.
“I think it’s good when we have some close matches. It’s kind of hard when we’re doing this well in the district matches to try as hard as we normally could.”
Terenzi said Kettle Run played well on Tuesday.
“I think we needed that,” Terenzi said. “I told [our players], ‘Expect the ball to come back, and we need to be the ones to put the ball down. If we’re not putting the ball down, we’re just going to keep rallying back and forth.’ That point-for-point stuff gets very frustrating after a while, and finally in that third set we were able to put some points together.”
Dig PinkJames Wood raised more than $5,000 for its annual Dig Pink fundraiser. All of that money goes to the Side-Out Foundation, which supports the development of treatments for Stage IV breast cancer. James Wood has raised more than $50,000 for cancer treatment since its first Dig Pink game in 2009.
“I think it’s one of our favorite games of the season, if not our favorite one,” Costin said. “It’s really special for us to come together and fight for such a great cause.”
“It’s amazing we’re able to do something like this and raise money, and really raise awareness,” Van Sickler said.
Terenzi said she was definitely impressed with how hard the James Wood community worked to put the night together.
“The parents put all of this together,” Terenzi said. “All the raffles, the parents help facilitate all the ribbons, all the sponsors, all the T-shirts. The amount of effort that the parents put in is amazing. It’s so appreciated.”
Week aheadMonday: James Wood at Williamsport (Md.), 7 p.m.; Millbrook at Riverside, 7 p.m.; Tuesday: James Wood at Liberty, 7 p.m.; Kettle Run at Sherando, 7 p.m.; Handley at Fauquier, 7:15 p.m.; Culpeper County at Millbrook, 7:15 p.m.; Clarke County at Strasburg, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Millbrook at James Wood, 7 p.m.; Sherando at Handley, 7:15 p.m.; East Rockingham at Clarke County, 7:15 p.m.