by Matt Delaney
A rout. A rut. A rally.
The formula is all too familiar for the Mustangs, who after going up 2-0, took a nosedive midway through the match only to arise from their ashes once more and claim a big win late in the season as they defeated Clarke County 3-1 (25-17, 25-10, 19-25, 25-23).
The wheels were wiggling off Mason’s unit as they were staring down a 9-5 deficit early in the fourth set after surrendering a 25-19 third set loss that never should have been, given the team’s dominance early on.
But one point led to another, and then another, and finally a “tick-tick, boom”-ing kill by junior outside hitter Shaun Rodock put Mason ahead 11-10, allowing the home stands to erupt as the Mustangs were on their way to dodging any semblance of last week’s putrid loss to Strasburg.
“We started sticking serves,” assistant coach Brad Young said. “Once we took that first lead in the fourth set, our girls were fine. They woke up and realized they were right there…so it was just focusing [and] getting our girls in a good service run.”
Serving, was in fact, the key.
Head coach Hillary Trebels noted an improvement in Clarke County’s hitting since their first meeting with the team on Oct. 6, causing her to brainstorm defensive adjustments with Young pre-match so the Mustangs wouldn’t be caught off-guard.
The ladies negated Clarke County’s power well, but their best counter came to be the stifling serves they launched throughout the match.
“[Our serves] weren’t really aggressive, and other teams could attack out of that,” Trebels said.
“So…we focused on adding pace to them and that helped because [Clarke County] struggled passing and couldn’t run their offense as much as they wanted.”
This advantage was on full display during the home team’s winning sets.
Mason appeared to drag and drop their serves in the first and second sets as the Eagles ran amok, failing to piece offensive possessions together and ended the opening sets 25-17 and 25-10, respectively.
The trend resumed in the fourth set as the Mustangs’ serve game left Clarke County scurrying to recover, though to no avail, with freshman outside hitter Mackenzie Brady’s ace sealing the deal 25-23.
Outside of the service game, the Mason defense showed out against a Clarke County team that put some mustard on the ball from multiple vantage points. Hearty digs made way for good passing which evolved into great scoring chances finished off by senior outside hitter Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong and junior middle hitter Kate Karstens.
Addo-Ashong’s usual share of leaping strikes wooed the crowd from time to time, but it was Karstens’ off-speed kills that kept Clarke County’s morale in check and maintained Mason’s competitive edge.
“Coach always tells me ‘Demand the ball,’” said Karstens, but refused to take credit for her good play alone. “It’s really nice, [but] it all starts with a pass. You can’t run middle without a pass, so I will definitely say that without our backrow I couldn’t have done anything.”
“It was a reminder that we can’t rely too heavily…on the fact that we’re going to come and be able to perform every game,” Karstens said. “We have to want it out of ourselves, and the Strasburg game made us re-evaluate how we treat games and situations like this.”
Mason ends their regular season on Thursday against Rappahannock County before beginning the postseason on Nov. 3.