by Matt Delaney
A sprawling bump by sophomore setter Isabella Ashton hovered in the air while three Mason players watched, waited, and eventually, dove in unison to try and salvage their team from another inexplicable mistake.
This epitomized the uncharacteristically messy play of Mason which spelled their demise as a feisty and fortunate Strasburg High School defeated the Mustangs in straight sets on Tuesday, Oct. 20 (25-22, 25-17, 25-17).
Mason has a tendency to go on cruise control when facing weaker opponents, such as the 3-8 Strasburg Rams, though tonight they failed to make it out first gear. Serves frequently failed to be in play, opposing strikes were rarely fielded clean and sets were left unattended as they floated into obscurity with no one willing to claim the kill.
“We lacked communication; that was really obvious,” head coach Hillary Trebels said. “We didn’t seem very energized at points in time…we had balls dropping…so I was disappointed [with having everyone back from injuries].
Injuries were akin to a “seventh man” on the Mustang’s squad with the starting lineup undergoing day-to-day changes depending on who was healthy. Mason pieced together a four-match win-streak in a two week period, and with all starters cleared for action, aspirations for the team to regain their on-court demeanor was immediately met by a harsh reality.
“Our chemistry was just really thrown off,” senior libero Mary Catherine Donovan said. “This was some people’s first game in a couple of weeks [and] because we weren’t…ready for the adjustments [of] having different people come back in, we got down on ourselves really quickly and we just couldn’t come back from it.”
The visiting Rams were able to capitalize with sound defense and a relentless outside presence; typical traits of the Mustang’s victories this season. The two teams slugged out an abundantly errored 25-22 result in the first set in Strasburg’s favor. The following sets fared worse for Mason, who lost an 11-6 lead in the second set and never captured a lead in the third en route to two Strasburg wins at 25-17 to clinch the match.
A disenchanted gallery observed as the Mustangs plummeted from hopeful to hapless. While Mason struggled to clear the net on returns and serves, it seemed every time the Rams struck the net the ball rolled willingly into nooks unoccupied by the Mustangs defense. Adding insult to injury, the referees were debatably hard on some key violation calls that secured the momentum for Strasburg.
Coach Trebels gave the lack of fortune little thought in her post-match comments. “You’ve got to control the things you can control; we talked about that in our timeouts and we talked about it before [the match],” Trebels said. “Sticking our serve is something you always have control over and we missed probably five in the first game and it was plaguing us throughout the night, so controlling [variables] is something we did not do today.”
The defeat leaves a bitter taste in the team’s mouth, though not all is lost. Mason embarks on the home stretch of their regular season against three top-five teams in the Bull Run District: Madison County (5th), Clarke County (4th), and the undefeated Rappahannock County (1st). Trebels stated that volleyball is all about momentum and confidence, and using this tough end to the season as chance to get that back will be important to the team.
Or, as Ashton put it. “We need to be ready, we need to be on our best, and we need to be like that for every game; no exceptions.”