by Matt Delaney
George Mason High School’s volleyball team continues to be red-hot as they extended their win streak to six matches after a dramatic victory against reigning Bull Run District champion Madison County by a score of 3-1 (25-9, 25-10, 20-25, 25-23) at home on Sept. 29.
The fourth set concluded in climactic fashion as both teams were trading points until freshman outside hitter McKenzie Brady brought down the hammer for the Mustang’s finishing blow, ending the match at 25-23.
The exciting finale was definitely a crowd pleaser, but the possibility of winning was touch-and-go early into the fourth set. A scrappy Madison County gained momentum by forcing Mason into errant play and held a daunting 9-2 lead. However, after a vicious kill by senior outside hitter Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong tied the set up at 19-19 the Lady Mustangs were able to extinguish any hopes of a Mountaineer comeback. Many of the points scored by both teams in the final set were a result of defensive discombobulation, rather than offensive dominance.
“We just really need to focus on what we can control,” Addo-Ashong said. “Let [the other team] make the mistakes if they want to, but we need to focus on us and putting the ball in every play.”
Part of the final set’s ugliness was attributed to recently-cleared sophomore setter Isabella Ashton’s return to the lineup after an ankle sprain. The injury kept Ashton out of competition for a week, and with freshman setter Evelyn Duross being pulled from the starting rotation after suffering an injury during warm-ups, Ashton didn’t have the luxury of easing back into the speed of competitive play.
“Sometimes if everything’s a little off, then I can [be] a little bit off and that will affect everyone else,” Ashton said. “I need to choose where I’m going to set the ball [and] who’s going to hit.”
Madison County seized the momentum from Mason when they dealt a disheartening defeat in the third set with a 25-20 victory.
Head coach Hillary Trebels was cognizant of the ladies’ self-destruction and used the intermission between the third and fourth sets to right the ship. “We knew what we had to do,” Trebels said. “We had a couple of mental errors and communication breakdowns at clutch points. So once again, [we had to go] back to our game, play clean and not let them get in our heads.”
The first two sets were a far cry from match’s second act. Mason commanded the flow of the action by peppering Madison County with unplayable shots and left them with few opportunities to set up counterattacks, ending the first and second sets with scores of 25-9 and 25-10, respectively.
Awkward play by Madison County served as a nice warm-up for Ashton in the early goings as she was able to calmly set for her teammates, assisting Addo-Ashong, Brady, senior outside hitter Kate Karstens, junior outside hitter Shaun Rodock and sophomore middle hitter Merriweather Gordon.
However when things got heated during the third set Mason’s predictable reliance on Addo-Ashong allowed Madison County to rally and push the match into a fourth set.
“Yeah, that’s always my biggest fear,” Addo-Ashong said. “I think we should spread out our offense because we have [some great hitters] and I don’t think we should rely on the outside so much.”
Similar to last week’s match against Central High School, Mason was clearly competing against lesser competition. Though this time the team’s lax nature nearly spelled their demise as they let Madison County regain a fighter’s chance and almost rob a victory away from the more talented Mustangs.
“We had an issue with that last year,” Ashton said. “Hopefully we can work on it and that won’t be a problem for the rest of the season.”
While Mason bumbled their way to a victory Tuesday night, it came on the heels of a resilient road victory against another Bull Run district opponent in Strasburg High School on September 24. The Mustangs lost their opening set, 16-25, then rifled off three straight victories and increased the deficit each time, with scores of 25-21, 25-16 and 25-9.
“I think we had a bit of a slow start, but we brought it together,” Trebels said. “Our serving got better and our defense is really good, which let us run all of our hitters.”
The Mustangs participated in an all-day tournament at J.E.B Stuart High School on Saturday, Sept. 26. The outcome of the tournament held no consequence on season standings, so Trebels used it as an exhibition to test the ladies’ skills in other areas that may come in handy towards the season’s end.
Mason took on undefeated Rappahannock County High School at home on Thursday, Oct. 1, and lost 1-3. They play Clarke County and Warren County on the road next week.