By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s varsity volleyball team beat Stonewall Jackson High School in straight sets (25-19, 25-18, 28-26) on Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the Conference 35 playoffs. The Mustangs (12-8) were ahead 23-18 in the third set when the Generals (2-15) went on a 6-1 run to tie the game at 24 and force a win-by-two situation.
The Mustangs then went up by a point, but the Generals tied the set back up at 25 in the next volley. Sophomore middle hitter Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong spiked a thunderous kill into the Generals’ court, which gave the Mustangs a 26-25 lead and seemed to put the Generals away for good. But the Generals tied the set back up at 26.
After re-gaining service and going up 27-26, senior outside hitter Sally Karstens launched her body into the air and launched the ball down into the Generals’ court for a game-winning kill.
“I think we let them hang in more than we should have,” said Mason Head Coach Erik Healey. “I think we started almost every single game down a few points and had to come to fight it back.”
The Mustangs trailed the Generals by large margins early in the first and third sets before coming back to win, which has been characteristic of the team throughout the season.
“I just feel like it’s the way we operate, and we’ve gotten used to it,” Karstens said. “Not that it’s a good thing, but I think we are adjusting better to our slow starts than we were [before].”
Karstens said that getting off to slow starts affects how competitive the Mustangs are against more formidable opponents in the Bull Run District and Conference 35, like William Monroe or Madison County high schools.
“In volleyball in general … the further apart the points get, the harder it is to come back and [there’s] a lower chance we have of winning,” Karstens said.
The Mustangs found themselves down by more than 10 points in their last match to Madison County. The most the Mustangs were down to the Generals on Tuesday was five points.
Freshman middle hitter Maddie Cherry, who was sidelined with an injury in mid-October, returned to the court in a limited capacity against the Generals. She was third in the team in kills in match with seven. Addo-Ashong led the team in kills with 14, followed by Karstens, who had 10 kills.
Karstens and Addo-Ashong led the Mustangs in blocks against the Generals with three each. Sophomore Mary Catherine Donovan led the team in aces with five and served for the Mustangs on scoring runs of six points in the second set and seven points in the third set. Healey said Donovan has been working on a float serve all season.
“When it comes at you, you have no idea where it’s going and it’s a tough one to read, to get under, especially when it comes at you as fast as it does,” Healey said. “I mean there were some that were just hitting them in the chest because they come at you that fast.”
Senior libero Dana Sembera served for the team on a nine-point run, their longest of the night, and led the team in digs with 40, which is a new single-game record for the school. Sembera and Karstens both had four aces against the Generals. Karstens had 22 digs and senior defensive specialist Peggy Brozi had 18 digs in the match. Senior setter Caiti Hof had 26 kills for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs play district foe Madison County on Thursday at Luray High School in the semifinal round of the Conference 35 tournament. The Mountaineers won both regular season contests they played against the Mustangs and went undefeated in the district, but the Mustangs are one of the only teams this season to win a set against the regular and postseason district champs.
Addo-Ashong said that if the Mustangs maintain a high energy level and play well defensively against the Mountaineers they can stay in the match.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a tough match for us,” Addo-Ashong said. “But last time we played them we definitely proved that we can keep up with them.”